A firefighter removes his mask and helmet during a three-alarm fire in Sutherlin in July 2016.

The combination of health insurance compensation, pension costs and Oregon’s tax revenue structure is posing a triple threat to fire departments, Tim Moore, president of the Oregon Fire Chiefs Association, told the Sutherlin Fire Services Working Group during its meeting Tuesday night.

Moore’s report was among some hot topics heard by the panel at its meeting, including fire department industrywide trends and insurance ratings.

The advisory work is learning about fire department operations as part of its work to determine whether the city is on the right track with issues such as meeting insurance requirements.

Not to mention that apparently it’s not easy staffing a fire department, as experts and fire chiefs talked about trends such as maintaining staffing levels, said Jeff Johnson, chief executive officer with the Western Fire Chiefs Association.

Volunteerism is shrinking as the federal government increases its mandates, making it more difficult to volunteer, he said.

Fire chiefs from southern Oregon fire departments that serve cities with similar-size populations as Sutherlin told the panel that their departments use a mix of paid firefighters, volunteers, and students from firefighting programs who get free rent in return for their work on the fire department.

The panel was briefed by a manager for the Insurance Services Office, an advisory organization to the insurance industry that issues numerical ratings for fire departments.

In 2014, the Sutherlin Fire Department was included in an update of the Douglas County Fire District No. 2’s ratings survey, which resulted in a rating of 3. The scale is from 1 to 10.

The Sutherlin Fire Department, a volunteer fire department, held ratings of 5 until 1997, and 4 from 1997 through 2013 when it was included in Douglas County Fire District No. 2’s update.

The national and Oregon average is 5, with a lower number being better.

“We don’t know what it would look like when they have their own rating,” said Insurance Services Office Manager Stephanie Ruscansky in an interview.

The Sutherlin Fire Department would get its own rating in 2019, or sooner, if officials request a rating, Ruscansky said.

John Dickey can be reached at jdickey@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4204.

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City Government and Business reporter

John Dickey is a city government and business reporter for The News-Review.

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