A state grant is adding three seasonal firefighters each to the Vale and Nyssa fire departments.
Both agencies received money through the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s 2022 wildfire season staffing grant. It gives local fire departments up to $35,000 for personnel costs.
The Vale Fire Department added three seasonal firefighters as of Friday, July 1, and they are scheduled to work through Sept. 30, with a possibility to stay on if funds allow.
“This is going to greatly boost our response times and the number of manpower available to respond to any emergency,” said Vale Fire Chief Jess Tolman. “But it will also allow some of our volunteers and full-time staff a much needed break.”
The new hires will help cover “all types of fires, mainly wildfires,” in addition to ambulance driver shifts, helping prepare defensible spaces, and providing public education about prevention.
Many parts of Oregon remain at elevated risk for significant fires, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, although a wet spring has delayed the start of the wildfire season usually spanning June to October.
While it’s “too early to tell” what the upcoming wildfire season will look like as weather continues to fluctuate, Nyssa Fire Chief Eric Menchaca said he’s sure the additional hires will help.
“Even if [applicants] don’t get a seasonal position, they’re always welcome to apply to volunteer,” added Menchaca. “We’re always looking for volunteer firefighters.”
He hopes to make his three hires in early July. They will work full time with the current team of 18 volunteer firefighters and contribute to rangeland, structural, and other department calls during the wildfire season.
Over 160 departments applied for the state grant from a fund of $6 million managed by the state fire marshal’s office.
The grant is part of the state agency’s Response Ready Oregon Initiative, which aims to “increase on-duty capacity…at the local level and allow agencies to mobilize quickly to fires at the local, regional, and state (conflagration) levels.”
“It’s a first-time program,” said Menchaca. “If they [OSFM] can show a big benefit throughout the state, there’s a possibility they can continue, and we can continue to hire seasonal firefighters.”
Contact photojournalist Cynthia Liu by email: [email protected]
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