The smoky haze in the valley a couple weeks ago is a reminder of the dangers of fire season, but what we may not be aware of is how underfunded some local fire departments are and how much of a risk that poses for those communities. Antelope is a very small town in north central Oregon with a population of 46. Their fire department provides aid to a large unprotected area consisting of other tiny communities and ranches in a 120 square mile radius. The closest fire rescue or ambulance that will come there is 45 minutes to an hour away.
They have no dedicated tax base; in fact, their total annual budget is about $3,000 which has to pay for fuel, electricity, insurance, and repairs, so they depend nearly 100% on donations. According to Fire Chief Michael Carter, the people in that area are leery about signing on for any taxation, even if it would benefit them, because of trust issues that began when the Rajneesh came to the area with a cult of followers in the 1980s. His devotees were numerous enough to elect themselves into local offices. Many promises were made and broken.
As a result, public support and cash donations by any means possible have been (quite understandably) rather difficult to come by. Carter is working to get some grants for training and equipment but those are very lengthy and highly competitive processes which do not offer the best success for tiny rural departments like Antelope’s, as it is usually the bigger departments that are awarded.
When Carter moved to Antelope in 2011, there was no fire department to speak of. There was nothing but a garage filled with unusable equipment. According to Carter, there wasn’t a single ax, ladder, pike pole, pair of gloves, flashlight, fire extinguisher, or radio. In fact, until two years ago, they relied on phones and knocking on doors to round up volunteers in place of radios. The 1948 Chevy fire engine that had been used until 1998 was still there, but obviously not working. The garage had been left unlocked and anything that was left was falling apart and filled with dirt and cobwebs. As a consequence of these conditions, the community suffered tragically in loss of property and life over the years. A career mobile intensive care unit paramedic with a background in volunteer firefighting, Carter took it upon himself to beef up public safety.
Today, they have two structure fire engines, a medic unit, a brush fire rig, and a utility vehicle. They have 12 to 16 volunteers at any given time, plus others who provide support services. Carter trains the volunteers in fire rescue skills every month; they recently finished up their first ever Firefighter 1 Academy, which was taught by instructors from Portland that were eager to help. A few nearby fire departments have given them used equipment. Much of it is a bit old and considered obsolete by NFPA standards, but every little bit helps and is an improvement from where they started. They are still in desperate need of a new station (their present station is a simple, small metal two-bay garage built by the Rajneesh in 1980), a dedicated communication link to their dispatch center, EMT training, an oversized alternator and new batteries for their EMS rescue vehicle, and better public relations mechanisms. Many people in the area know nothing about the problems that their small fire department has faced.
If you want to help out, they need financial donations as well as medical equipment and supplies for their emergency medical services and rescue unit/team, especially diagnostic devices. For info, visit www.cityofantelope.us/fire-
City of Antelope Fire Department
P.O. Box 111
Antelope, OR 97001
By Hannah Darling