Canary in a coal mine | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Canary in a coal mine

Don't say you haven't been told so

"Please call me Bill," the man testifying at city council last Wednesday requested, "No one calls me doctor."

He went on to apologize for talking fast because he had just downed a Coke before entering city council chambers, but the emergency room physician, Dr. Bill Reed, there to testify about the "Follow-up Report on Fire Study," provided some of the most plain-speaking and sobering information about the current state of the fire department, calling the report a "canary in the coal mine."

Fire service plays into emergency rooms by often being the first responders to the most urgent and desperate cases. The anemic funding and staffing for Bend's fire department, pointed out Dr. Reed, already has had life-or-death consequences, as three cases in the past 12 months when firefighters were not able to provide resources fast enough ended up in deaths. Although not able to provide specifics due to confidentiality, Reed explained in one incident that paramedics and firefighters were all occupied elsewhere and could not respond. In another, firefighters couldn't transport the dying patient on their truck and had to wait nearly 20 minutes for an ambulance to be available.

"It takes way too long to get resources involved when they're all tapped out doing something else," he explained.

Reed also apologized for his laidback demeanor and colloquialism, identifying himself as a surfer from Southern California, but clearly he was there to deliver important information, and to ask for action.

"I apologize for creating work for you," he offered, "but I think your electorate is in need of a wants-versus-needs discussion."

He then went on to provide the most searing indictment of the evening: "It must be difficult for you guys knowing your voters just approved $30 million to improve parks that are already bomber and bulletproof, but don't really want to float for roads or sewers or cops or firefighters."

"It's just not cool," he concluded.

The first city councilor to respond to Reed pointed out that in his six-plus years on council, both the police and fire departments have been consistently understaffed. Illustrating his point, Councilor Mark Capell talked about the arson at Trinity Church earlier this year. It was lucky, he explained, that the fire happened at night when most of the firefighters were actually at the station, as opposed to during the daytime when they might have been out on other duties. "It could have burned down an entire block," he offered as an alternate scenario.

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