Row River Fire Response receives support from state and local colleagues

Courtesy photo

June 2 - The Oregon State Fire Marshal recently awarded the Row River valley community with a $249,540 grant for community wildfire risk reduction. Posted on the Row River Fire Response Facebook page, the grant's goal is to lower the risk of wildfires affecting the residences in the Row River Valley neighborhood.

“After a house fire in winter 2022, one of our Board members, Scott Byler, galvanized a group of our community to begin working towards a real solution to our fire risk.” said Walt Bernard, President of Row River Fire Response.

Bernard acknowledged that since then, the RRFR committee has increasingly looked to South Lane County Fire & Rescue’s Fire Chief, John Wooten and South Lane County Fire & Rescue’s advice and strategies as the process to become a 501c3 progressed.

Bernard summarized, “The relationship [within the committee] is characteristic of SLCFR ethos, as is of all fire districts in Lane County and beyond--if you ask for help and are willing to make the commitment to the work, (it is not easy to form a fire district), the help will be forthcoming.”

As anticipation to form an agency began, the rural volunteer firefighters faced hurdles to reaching official status as a fire agency, reported by The Sentinel’s Damien Sherwood’s two-part article, “Dorena’s Dilemma” in March 2022. Bernard recalled the story, “Chief Wooten said essentially, 'if our community was willing to form an organization and do the work, SLCFR would be there to help make the district happen.” 

A few months later Chief Wooten and Bernard began discussions routinely, which have now led to a partnership that will support and protect the Row River community until a Special District is approved. “Our community was very excited when we announced this news a few weeks ago.  We are all grateful to SLCFR, Chief Wooten, and the SLCFR Board for offering this amazing opportunity.” said Bernard.       

The grant will be used for active fuel reduction strategies surrounding residential buildings as well as community and school-based fire safety education.

Wooten asked the SLCFR Board at a recent meeting to approve a resolution authorizing the RRFR as a temporary auxiliary volunteer Corp, while they work on getting the ballot measure approved for the creation of a fire district under ORS Chapter 478. “The resolution authorizes us [SLCFR] to provide training, certification, equipment, and other support to RFRR for a period of two years,” said Wooten.

Wooten continued, “This is a public-private partnership with their 501c3 non-profit association. As they gain financial capability through grants and other resources, they will reimburse SLCFR. Their Board will continue to function as required by law, but their response operations will be temporarily under our control to assure they are ready to stand alone once they form a fire district.”

And according to Wooten, “the risk of catastrophic fire in the Row River drainage is extremely high so part of this partnership is to help put a force in place that can rapidly make an initial attack and help prevent a potential conflagration. It is to everyone’s benefit to have structured fire protection in that area."

The formation of a Special Rural Fire Protection District is a top priority between the two agencies. Bernard also notes the importance of the temporary auxiliary unit of SLCFR, providing service until the Special District is formed, in combination with the Oregon State Fire Marshal grant as a way to engage with SLCFR, LC Emergency Management, and other organizations to create planned evacuation routes and safe spaces in the event of a fire disaster conflagration.

“We currently offer fire protection agreements and given the 50 plus contracts we have in that unprotected area, the formation of a fire district is the logical next step.” Wooten stated. “Once they get the fire district formed it will be part of the countywide mutual aid agreement and we will become mutual aid partners. We want people to understand this is a temporary arrangement to help RFRR get the fire district formed.”

“When we respond to that area we will still bill for suppression if the property is not under a suppression agreement. We want their effort to be successful and given the threat of fire we feel this temporary partnership is a good thing. We will continue meeting our service level demands in our District as we engage this partnership.” Wooten concluded.

Row River Fire Response is now in need of volunteers to train and on May 5, they had their first community volunteer firefighter meeting. The meeting will be held again Sunday, June 4 at 3 p.m. at Dorena Church for those who were unable to attend the first meeting or who would like to attend a second time. 

An online video that was shared May 19 shows a new engine with a pump in action. Bernard said in the Facebook post, “This will be a great engine for our community, just in time for fire season. Thanks to Scappoose Fire for gifting this amazing engine!” Bernard and Lt. Anderson of Scappoose Fire tested the new RRFR engine in the video with Lt. Anderson going over the truck's features.

Later that day, RRFR posted an additional picture with a message stating that South Lane Fire and Rescue had voted unanimously to form a temporary auxiliary Fire District in conjunction with RRFR. “We wish to thank Chief Wooten and the SLFR board! This includes training for firefighter volunteers before the 2023 fire season, and assistance with equipment!” said Bernard. 

Additionally, on May 20, Bernard and Lorane Assistant Chief Jim Bailor can be seen putting on some of the fire-resistant gear for wildland firefighters that Lorane Fire District provided to the Row River Fire Response on Friday. A total of ten sets of pants, shirts, and jackets were donated. The post read, “Our community is very lucky to have such great mentors looking out for our efforts. Thanks Tom, Jim and the Lorane Fire District Board and volunteers!” 

Those interested in learning more about becoming a volunteer fire responder or in providing auxiliary support are invited to a secondary meeting, which will give them background and introduction information. RRFR next volunteer fire responder orientation meeting is June 4, 3 p.m. at the Dorena Church, 37923 Row River Rd Dorena, Ore.

For more information, please attend or contact [email protected]. To subscribe to their newsletter or donate to support operations, visit their Website at: https://rowrivervalley.