Jefferson Fire District election Travis Powers

Travis Powers, a volunteer lieutenant firefighter and director of the Friends of the Jefferson Fire District, said that his agency’s water tenders and other equipment are outdated. The district is seeking to pass a five-year $1.38 million local option levy for upgrades and facilities maintenance.

The Jefferson Fire District has a five-year levy on the May 21 special election ballot that would raise a total of $1.38 million.

The local option tax, if approved by voters, would be used to replace a 2004 ambulance, purchase a new water tender, upgrade an existing water tender, increase apparatus maintenance and conduct facilities improvements.

The levy also would help offset a loss caused when Millersburg switched from Jefferson to Albany for fire protection. The annual loss of the Jefferson Fire District’s tax base from the change was about $270,000 — roughly one year of the five-year tax, said Jefferson Fire Chief Kevin Hendricks.

The levy would collect 38 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

Travis Powers, a volunteer lieutenant firefighter and director of the Friends of the Jefferson Fire District, said that the agency has received plenty of support from Jefferson-area residents, in part because of its history.

“For years and years, the Jefferson Fire District has been conservative with spending money,” he added.

The proposed levy is just one small part of improvements that could occur for the district, however.

According to a study by the Jefferson Fire District’s board of directors, the agency needs to replace aging facilities and equipment, and all of the upgrades would cost roughly $14.5 million.

The board figured that going for all of that at once wasn’t feasible, however, especially with the Jefferson School District passing a $14 million bond in May 2017.

Instead, the board decided to focus on immediate needs, Powers said. “We want to start fixing things and replacing things as we go,” he added.

The 2004 ambulance has been having numerous mechanical issues, and having better water tenders was seen as critical.

“About 98 percent of the district that we work is rural. Only the city of Jefferson itself has hydrants,” Powers said. The agency also often assists neighboring agencies with field fires and other blazes.

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The Jefferson Fire District currently has three water tenders, and will drop down to two if the levy passes.

Hendricks said things run more efficiently with upgraded equipment. The tenders won’t need to use portable transfer tanks on the scenes of fires, and instead can provide water directly to engines.

Without having to worry about the process of moving water from a tender to a portable tank to an engine,  more firefighters will be free to actually fight fires, he said.

“It’s a better way of utilizing our people,” he said.

Two of the current tenders are from 1982, and it’s difficult to get parts for the rigs, Hendricks said. Jefferson’s newest and best tender is from 1993, but it only can pump out 100 to 200 gallons of water a minute.

Powers said that if the levy passes, the agency will retrofit the apparatus so it can pump 700 gallons or more per minute.

The facilities improvements include repairing roofs and exterior painting.

But eventually, the fire station will need to be replaced.

“The older part of the building was built in 1956. We’ve been maintaining that but structurally it’s starting to deteriorate,” Powers said.

Much of the maintenance has been conducted by volunteer firefighters as well.

New apparatus and equipment are larger than in the past, and they don’t fit the size of the current station. One of the district’s bays already has been enlarged for a newer fire engine.

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Kyle Odegard can be reached at kyle.odegard@lee.net, 541-812-6077 or via Twitter @KyleOdegard.