Last week, the Keizertimes reported on the massive increase in call volume that Keizer Fire District has gone through during the last 10 years.
In 2019, KFD received 5,678 calls for service, nearly a 32 percent increase from the 3,866 calls they received in 2009.
But in order to keep up with the consistent increase in call volume they have received over the last decade, KFD hopes to have logistical changes come to the department in the years to come.
“We're going to need to have a plan for the future, because if we go without for another 10 years, we could potentially have a 30 percent higher call volume and if we're already running 15 calls a day, we would be running more than 20 (calls per day) in 10 years,” Keizer Fire Chief Jeff Cowan said. “That's the kind of growth we're dealing with.”
According to Cowan, the department remodeled its upstairs rooms, which allowed them to house 16 people instead of 10. However, it has become clear to KFD staff that the size of the station — especially when it comes to dining, dishwashing and laundry — isn't made for that many people.
“Math and history shows us that we probably just need to double the size of the station,” Cowan said. “When you have more people, you also need more of the other things. You need 50 percent more stuff if there's 50 percent more people.”
The current size of the station could also be an issue for KFD's medical equipment.
Brian Butler, who is the Division Chief of Operations with KFD, shared that the district would like to purchase a fourth medic unit in the near future to better handle the increased call volume.
They still plan to have three medic units in service during a typical day, but this way, if one of the medic units is out of service, they will be able to have one on reserve.
However, there would currently be no spot to put another vehicle at the station.
“Once we purchase that fourth medic unit, there is not a spot to put another vehicle in this entire station. There is no more room,” Butler said.
Cowan expects a citizen advisory board to convene this year to talk about this exact issue. His solution would be to not expand the station, but instead, put another station right next to the current one.
“We got our full 23 years out of the station, but what we really need for the next 20 years is to butt up a station right next to it,” Cowan said. “In order to fund that, we would be probably be looking at a bond.”
The reason that Cowan wants a new station right up next to the current station is that he feels like their current station is in the perfect location to respond to their calls as effectively as possible.
According to Cowan, KFD has consistently responded to Code 3 calls in six minutes or less 93 percent of the time — Code 3 calls are emergency calls where lights and sirens are required.
“Getting there in less than six minutes 93 percent of the time, it's the difference between life and death,” Cowan said. “When somebody stops breathing and their heart stops, they're clinically dead. For four to six minutes, they're permanently and irreversibly brain damaged and biologically dead, so if we're getting there under six minutes 93 percent of the time, your survival rate goes up a lot,”
Cowan is hoping the citizen advisory board will be formed in the spring.
If KFD plans to get another medic unit, the staffing will have to increase as well.
In 2023, KFD's 59 cent levy will expire, meaning that if they want to bring additional staff on board, they will have to convince Keizer voters of a levy increase.
KFD successfully lobbied voters to increase their levy from 35 cents to 59 cents in 2013. The levy was renewed at 59 cents in 2018, much to the appreciation of the KFD staff.
“If we didn't pass the levy, we wouldn't have the people, and if we don't have the people, we can't run the ambulance,” Butler said.
Cowan shared how vital it is to make sure that KFD can come up with a plan for the future that the community will back.
“We can't do any of this without the community. Every single thing we do in here is community supported. So we will need the community's endorsement of the plan and the work that we're doing in order to keep going forward,” Cowan said.