WESTON – US bailout money could be a game-changer for East Umatilla Fire & Rescue, according to Fire Chief David Baty.
As the federal stimulus money arrives in Oregon, state senators receive $ 4 million to allocate to a project in their district and state officials receive $ 2 million. Baty said Senator Bill Hansell, R-Athena and Representative Bobby Levy, R-Echo, agreed to allocate part of their funds to build a new fire station for the district.
The money should be enough to build the new Weston station without going any further to taxpayers.
âIt’s going to be close, but I think if we keep a real sharp pencil, we’ll be fine,â Baty said.
The station would serve as the headquarters of East Umatilla Fire & Rescue, which covers approximately 420 square miles in eastern Umatilla County after three small districts merged in 2020. Baty said they already have the land to build it. , a “ready to shovel” parcel by the intersection of Bannister Road and Mill Street.
They also have a design, which they changed slightly from the Heppner fire station. It includes a handful of offices, a kitchen, storage space, a few dormitories for visiting firefighters from the Oregon Department of Forestry and other partners, and parking for about eight rigs.
âWe are not trying to create the Taj Mahal,â said Baty. “We just want to make it clear and simple.”
The current station in the district is a hodge-podge building, the oldest part of which is now a century old. In one part, the old prison cells contain storage elements.
Baty says it’s embarrassing to show people around the station, given some accommodation. Firefighters don’t have real lockers to store their equipment, for example. Instead, they line them up in their designated section of a wall alcove directly behind a truck parking area. Baty tried to protect the equipment from diesel fumes as much as possible by hanging sheets of clear plastic in front of them.
One of the biggest problems with the current building is its location on a steep hill. One of the bays is extremely difficult to enter, Baty said, showing where a fire truck must line up just to turn around a sharp, steep turn. A curved railing in one spot and scratched areas on the post between the garage doors are a testament to the difficulty in getting the platforms into the station, especially when it is freezing cold. It’s also bad for trucks.
âIt twists the chassis,â he says.
One thing Baty is proud of is the people who serve the neighborhood. Baty is the only paid firefighter in the district (the district also pays someone to do the maintenance) and after a decades-long career working with paid firefighters he said it was extremely humiliating to come to Weston and to work alongside a team of volunteers.
Hansell said it was Umatilla County Commissioner John Shafer who first introduced him to Baty about a year ago. He visited the Weston fire station later, as did Levy. At the time, Hansell was planning to support the fire station as a project in the capital construction bill, but the allocation from the US bailout suddenly came.
Hansell decided to spend all of her $ 4 million, except $ 100,000, on the fire district, and Levy said she would spend half of her $ 2 million. The county volunteered to have its public works department do the work for free for some needed road improvements, pushing the project to its estimated cost of $ 5.6 million.
“I thought that this money is like a bird in the hand, that I can give, and why not give it to a project in which I am already involved?” Hansell said.
He said he was impressed with the need for the project, but of course there are a lot of big projects that need funding in his district. But one of the attractions of the fire station was that Hansell wanted to donate money to a capital project that was ready in spades and could be completed with ARP funds alone, instead of spending money. time to collect more money in other ways.
It would also serve a very large part of its district, given the size of the fire district, including Hansell’s hometown of Athena. And that aligns with Senate leadership priorities right now to strengthen fire suppression and prevention, after Republican Senate Leader Fred Girod lost his own home to wildfires in southern Oregon l ‘last summer.
âIt was the full package,â said Hansell.
ARP money will also come to the fire district in October, while the district will have to wait two years to receive funds if it were included in the capital construction bill.
Hansell plans to donate the remaining $ 100,000 of ARP funds to a wheat lab project at the Oregon State University Experimental Station in Adams. He is still pushing for other local projects to be included in this session’s capital construction bill, including the renovation of Umatilla County Jail, Blue Mountain Community College‘s Farm II project and the Wallowa Lake Dam.