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Town to relaunch fire department

KPTV

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    ESTACADA, Oregon (KPTV) — Starting next month, Estacada will be parting ways with Clackamas Fire services and relaunching its own fire district.

This comes after strong criticism from the community on how things were handled during last year’s wildfires.

Bob Patterson is one of those residents who feels strongly about this issue.

Patterson and his wife lost their home in the Riverside Fire.

He says they had little warning to evacuate their home.

“The sheriff came down on a Tuesday afternoon, said you’re on level three which was the first we’d heard about any evacuation warning,” Patterson said.

By Thursday morning, nearly 30 years of memories and things you can’t replace went up in flames.

“There was no fire department or any type of forest service fire equipment down at our house at all,” Patterson said. “I’d been to the fire department the day before I stopped in made a special trip to contact people at Clackamas Fire, tell em’ where our house was, how to get to it and that they were welcome to come down at any time. And yet the gate was still closed when a friend of ours came down at 11 Thursday morning to tell us that our house had burned.”

Estacada’s been in a contract for services with Clackamas Fire for about a year and a half.

Estacada Fire Board Director Ken Oliver says in a vote on November 3rd, the Estacada community voted against a merger with Clackamas Fire.

“We’re elected to represent our public and when the public says restart your fire department that’s the road that we have to go down,” Oliver said.

Patterson voted against the merger.

He recognizes that rural fire departments need help but feels last year there was a disconnect.

“These people aren’t part of our community.,” Patterson said. “They’re from outside they have no idea what it’s like.”

During the Riverside Fire, many residents told FOX 12 they felt left to fend for themselves with some even staying behind to protect their properties.

Oliver says Clackamas Fire didn’t get the chance to get out into the Estacada Community before the pandemic hit and that posed some challenges during the wildfire.

“I think there was struggle on their end with not knowing our roads and not knowing our people,” Oliver said. “I think the communication between the residents that were staying behind with their water trucks and their dozers and their excavators trying to save their neighbors’ houses and their houses I think that didn’t mesh well with what Clackamas Fire was trying to do.”

Clackamas Fire Chief Nick Browne says that’s not entirely true.

“For every one area that things didn’t go well, the next neighborhood over there was great partnership,” Browne said.

But the chief does acknowledge those criticisms.

“Their concerns are correct we were unable to immerse ourselves in the community and get to know who they were,” Browne said. “I understand and completely get the feeling of some of the homeowners and some of the citizens there. But the realities are is we had every single firefighter that Clackamas Fire has fighting fires.”

Browne says Clackamas Fire was hopeful the merger would pass, but he respects the community’s decision and fully supports it.

“Really what our focus is now is working with the new Estacada Fire leadership to ensure a smooth transition and make that that high level of emergency services which we provide doesn’t falter when Estacada transitions over,” Browne said.

Starting next month, the Estacada Fire District relaunches.

Oliver says a chief and nine career firefighters have been hired and property tax funds already set aside for contracts with Clackamas Fire will go toward this relaunch.

20 volunteer firefighters Oliver says will also be graduating from training later this month.

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