Phoenix fire calls to be routed through Dist. 5

PHOENIX — Beginning Monday, calls for emergency fire or medical service in town will be answered by Jackson County Fire District 5.

While residents won't notice much difference from the city-run department, which will cease to exist on the same day, a temporary contract approved this week between the city and District 5 will mean stability for former city firefighters, relief to the cash-strapped city and improved service for district customers.

Council members met Wednesday to give final approval to a nine-month contract with District 5, which already provides service to rural areas of Phoenix, Talent and Ashland and the city of Talent.

"Basically, as of Oct. 1, the employees of the Phoenix Fire Department become employees of District 5," Interim City Manager Joe Wrabek said.

The "trial marriage" of sorts will mean the district will operate using city firefighters, equipment and the fire station next to City Hall.

Talks began this summer to negotiate a service contract when a citizen review committee, tasked with reviewing the city's ongoing financial woes, expressed a desire to evaluate costs of a city-run department versus an outside provider.

Concerns over doing away with the city fire department were fewer than expected while benefits included stability for firefighters, who earned $10,000 worth of overtime in recent months, and relief for the city's thin public safety budget.

While initial cost savings are barely $9,000, Mayor Carlos DeBritto said the city would get "more bang for their buck" with the district contract, negotiated with help from retired District 3 fire chief Randy Iverson.

Aside from fewer administration costs — Phoenix Fire Chief Matt Lichtenstein will return to the rank of firefighter — help with capital improvements and use of the district's expanded resources will offer improved service and more cost savings over time.

Councilman Gary Reed, appointed by the city to help negotiate the contract, said the city would strive for a seamless transition in coming months.

"Our goal is to make this as seamless as possible," Reed said. "The thing we want to get across is this is not an annexation but a chance to review what service would be like if citizens did decide to annex.

"We've taken great pains to protect the public in all decisions we've made. We're not even going to change the name on the doors of the fire trucks so the public will see the same thing they've always seen. This just gives us a time frame we can tweak and adjust if we need to."

Fire District 5 Chief Dan Marshall said District 5 officials had few concerns about the district's ability to provide service levels expected by the city.

"We're confident it's going to be a seamless transition in terms of operations because we work so closely together now and we've worked side-by-side for years," he said. "This is really a win-win. It benefits the district from the standpoint of that added (station) in the city, enabling us to provide quicker response to sections of our existing district, and provides more depth in terms of personnel and strength in firefighting operations. This gives us six more people and 25 volunteer and student firefighters — and it gives their six guys the stability they've been needing."

With an election slated for March, annexation would take effect June 30 if approved by Phoenix residents and existing district customers.

If rejected, everything would return to "pre-contract," Wrabek said.

A press conference is planned at District 5's Highway 99 station at 2 p.m. Monday. The public is invited.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at

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