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Fire district looks to students for help; grant funds CERT coordinator position

Ground was broken earlier this month on Chemeketa Community College’s new Brooks Regional Training Center. Pictured, left to right: Leonard Lodder, Studio 3 Architecture, Inc.; Marion County Sheriff Jason Myers; Marion County Fire Chief Kevin Henson; Jerry Vesselo, Chemeketa Community College (CCC), Capitol Projects and Real Estate; Keizer Fire Chief Jeff Cowan; CCC President Cheryl Roberts, CCC; Johnny Mack, CCC, dean of Life Safety, Health, Human Performance and Athletics; CCC Support Officer Craig Smith; and, Director Erics Gabliks, Department of Public Safety Standards & Training, State of Oregon. (Submitted photo)

Of the Keizertimes

A student fire fighting program could be coming to the Keizer Fire District (KFD) in September.

“I’d like to get students on board and go with this,” Keizer Fire Chief Jeff Cowan told his board of directors during its Tuesday, July 20, meeting.

Students considered for the program must be enrolled in a community college’s fire or paramedic program. Given its proximity to the district, it’s expected most students will attend Chemeketa Community College in Salem.

The proposed program allows the district to augment its volunteer ranks with college students. Because of attrition, the district needs to recruit on average 14 volunteers each year.

Among the required qualifications, students must:

• Pull shifts (12 hours on weekdays, 24 on weekends) every three days;

• Meet minimum requirements as outlined in the district’s job description; and,

• Maintain a minimum grade point average of 3.0.

In addition, it’s preferred incoming students are state certified as both an EMT Basic or higher and NFPA pumper operator. Students serve at the discretion of the fire chief.

Cowan noted “sleeper programs,” as they are called, are not a new concept. He added there are 16 fire jurisdictions in the immediate area that partner with colleges. No two programs are the same due to discrepancies within each jurisdiction.

Fire districts aren’t the only beneficiaries. Students get scholarship funding, work experience and college credits. The district also pays for uniforms and makes equipment available as needed.

Cowan said the program will begin with three students, eventually expanding to six. Estimated cost is $6,000 per student per year, with the bulk of program cost related to tuition and fees.

Director Mike Kurtz questioned where funding will originate. Cowan said $12,000 is budgeted in 2010-11 under the Incentive Program for this year. This line item includes another $20,000 carried over from the 2009-10 fiscal year, for a total of $32,000.

A few district volunteers already attend Chemeketa. They must decide whether they want to remain volunteers or enter the student program. They cannot do both, Cowan said.

The chief added he is in negotiations with Johnny Mack, the college’s dean of Life Safety, Health, Human Performance and Athletics, about the program.

The proposal is expected to go before a second and potentially final vote of the KFD board next month.

In other news:

• The board authorized Cowan to enter into a personal services agreement with Stephanie Cooke. Pending negotiations, Cooke will become the new Community Emergency Response Team coordinator for KFD.

Funding for the coordinator position comes from a Department of Homeland Security grant.

Cooke, who has been a volunteer Keizer CERT leader for several years, will receive $7,120 through Dec. 31, unless funding is extended by Oregon Emergency Management.

• Joe Van Meter will serve a second consecutive term as board president. In addition, Kurtz will serve as vice president, Greg Frank as treasurer and Mike Hart as secretary of the board.

• Frank noted what he called a significant drop in fire calls. Through the first six months of 2009, the district responded to 35 calls compared to 16 calls through the first six months of 2010.

Cowan suggested the drop in number could be related to improved outreach and fire prevention efforts.

A rarity occurred when the district did not receive a fire call over the Fourth of July weekend.

• No progress was reported on KFD’s attempt to purchase a ladder truck from the Salem fire department.