Volunteer firefighters are asking the Cannon Beach fire board to budget an additional $15,000 a year and to establish an endowment fund to double firefighters' compensation.
Volunteer Fire Capt. Garry Smith read a letter to the fire board Tuesday night noting that up to six volunteers will be leaving the fire department within the next three years. To recruit and retain more volunteers, the firefighters established a "retention" committee, composed of firefighters and community residents.
Smith said firefighters agreed in a survey that providing financial incentives would be the best way to attract and keep volunteers. Help with paying health insurance or reimbursement for personal city utility bills also could act as lures, he said.
Smith said the Fire & Rescue Association, composed of the district's firefighters, would commit $15,000 a year to "recompense" firefighters if the fire board also agreed to commit at least $15,000 a year.
The board already budgets $28,500 to compensate firefighters, who each receive about $500 every six months, Smith said. Compensation is based on a point system that depends on how many fire calls and training sessions the firefighter participates in.
Employers often refuse to pay firefighters for hours missed on the job when the volunteers respond to alarms, Smith said. If the compensation budget is increased, the goal would be to pay them $5 to $10 an hour, based on a revised point system that still reflects the calls answered and training sessions attended.
The fire district has 23 volunteers but needs 33, Smith said. The district has long had difficulty finding volunteers who can afford to live in the district, which includes Cannon Beach and Arch Cape. At least 90 percent of the volunteers must live in the district, he said, but that requirement may also be revised.
In lieu of cash payment, incentives might also include paying the difference between what an employer pays for health insurance and what the firefighter pays at work, Smith said. If the firefighter doesn't receive health insurance, some assistance might be provided, he added.
"There's no way we could ever afford to pay the entire health insurance, but we could put something toward that," Smith said.
Another cash substitute might be payment of the firefighter's city sewer and water bill.
An endowment fund could be established, with future income from that fund supplementing the firefighters' compensation, Smith said.
In addition to compensation incentives, the retention committee also recommended a new Web site and stepped up efforts to increase public awareness of the firefighters' activities.
Fire board members praised the recommendations, although, noted board Chair Al Aya, finding $15,000 more could present "some big challenges."
Board member Linda Beck-Sweeney, however, said the money could be found if the board "tightened" the budget.
"It definitely would be money well spent," added board member Sharon Clyde. "It would be a good trade-off. I think all the points that were made are good, every single one of them."
The board agreed to consider adding the $15,000 during budget deliberations beginning in April. It also approved a motion to proceed with a new Web site that would enable firefighters to post training schedules, photos, videos and public safety information. The board also gave the association the go-ahead to pursue establishing a federally recognized nonprofit organization that could supervise an endowment fund.
In other business, the board also:
Approved a provision in a proposed contract for Fire Chief Cleve Rooper that would guarantee annual pay adjustments for the next two years. The compensation would follow the national Consumer Price Index but wouldn't exceed 4 percent a year. Clyde and Beck-Sweeney voted against the motion and Aya, Kim Bosse and Bill Morgan supported it.
Following approval of another "just cause" provision involving termination procedures, Rooper said he would sign the contract, which has been in negotiations for many months.
Accepted the resignation of Fire Marshall Jason Sharer. The board also agreed to conduct a private exit interview with Sharer at his request. The resignation is effective Friday.
Board members discussed how Sharer, who was also the district's training officer, would be replaced. Although they came to no decision, they suggested that the district's volunteer firefighters be considered for the part-time paid training position before seeking applicants outside the district and that the district contracts with someone else to perform the fire marshall's duties, which include inspections of local businesses for fire safety.