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Wallowa Lake Fire offers free jaws of life and rope rescue for residents who own or live within the protection district. (Chuck Anderson photo)
JOSEPH — Firefighters in Joseph will respond to rescue calls at Wallowa Lake without cost under a new contract with the Wallowa Lake Rural Fire Protection District.
Joseph’s volunteer fire department has always performed rescues as well as fire suppression at the lake, but until now it charged a cost-recovery fee for rescue calls. Its contract with the fire district, first negotiated after the district was formed in 2002, covered only fire calls.
Fire district directors earlier this year asked District Fire Chief Jeffrey Wecks, who also is the assistant chief of the Joseph Fire Department, to explore adding rescue calls to the contract.
The new contract, which went into effect July 1, provides cost-free rescue services involving any district resident or property owner, no matter whether the rescue occurs in the lake basin, Joseph or rural areas covered by Joseph Fire.
“We’re prepared to take care of traffic accident rescues, especially those requiring use of the Jaws of Life, and any rope rescue,” Wecks said.
The Hurst Jaws of Life uses hydraulic pressure to cut through or spread an opening in auto metal to extricate a trapped occupant.
Lake fire officials expressed appreciation for the improved contract.
“This is a solid example of the Joseph Fire Department’s willingness to work with us and the city council’s recognition of its role in serving the larger community,” said Chuck Anderson, the fire district’s board president.
Joseph Fire Chief Tom Clevenger said if there is a fire in the Wallowa Lake District, “we don’t charge for that structure or for a wildland fire — we go up there and stay as long as we need to — which is covered under the contract.”
Clevenger said if someone lives in the lake’s protection district, is a property owner or lives within the district boundaries they will be covered under the new contract.
“For a $1 a lot per year we will cover the entire district for anything — if they are headed over the Wallowa Mountain Loop Road and we have to do a rope rescue or if they are in a car accident between Joseph and Enterprise, you basically get unlimited fire department coverage for anything we could possibly do,” Clevenger said.
Typically, the Joseph Fire Department charges for any Jaws call or traffic accident and will bill either the car’s owner or the insurance company, Clevenger said.
If someone is a resident of Joseph, but not under contract, the department does not charge for firefighting, but Clevenger said they do bill for a Jaws or rope rescue.
“We haven’t asked the city what they want to do on that yet,” he said.
Clevenger said the department gets a lot of money from cost recovery.
The contract between Wallowa Lake and Joseph Fire will cost the district $35,125 for the 2013-14 fiscal year, an 8-percent increase over the 2012-13 rate. The district operates on taxes paid by property owners at the head and foot of the lake and along the west moraine.
Joseph Fire also intends to station a wildland engine at Wallowa Lake to join the city’s fire engine already housed at the lake fire station. Most of the contract increase is to pay for insurance coverage for the wildland engine. The district board agreed to pay for the insurance in exchange for quick availability of the engine for grass, brush or timber fires.
The wildland engine, previously located at the Joseph fire station, is being replaced in Joseph with a Humvee that firefighters are converting to fight wildland fires.