Updated: Jan 6, 2022
The following letter has been mailed via USPS to all properties in Dammeron Valley.
Greetings Dammeron Valley,
I hope everyone will forgive an old-school snail-mail intrusion. While DVFR has taken steps to improve our communication to you with our website, social media, and monthly board meetings, a recent mailing demonstrates that an old-fashioned letter can be a pretty effective way to get people engaged. We will continue to work hard to communicate proactively, whether that’s online or in your mailbox. I am also available in the station most days if you have any questions or concerns you would like to discuss. I am proud and excited at how far we have progressed as a department and love discussing our performance.
I appreciate this opportunity to share details about our progress. There are several key areas of DVFR’s Strategic Plan we’ve focused on over the last year, and I believe this additional context can help everyone better understand how the changes we’ve made have positively impacted our entire community.
Safety and Certification
In December, we experienced a complex critical incident in Veyo involving a bus fire and a family that received critical burns. Five patients were transported, and three remain in critical condition. A true county-wide response mitigated the incident extremely well in the absolute worst of circumstances. The investment our community made over the last year enabled the effective response to this incident. We had 10 certified and trained personnel on scene within six minutes. They were all equipped with proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), including new air packs which allowed them to do a life search inside the burning bus early in the incident. The injured were treated inside our ambulance while awaiting transport units from St George and Enterprise. This was critical, as the incident occurred in a snowstorm and burn patients are extremely susceptible to hypothermia. I cannot express to you how well the members of this department performed during a truly horrific emergency scene. The combined efforts of an entire county were needed to take care of this family and our thoughts and prayers are with them as they begin their long road to recovery.
With the support of the County Commission and our Medical Director, DVFR applied for an Advanced Life Support Quick Response License with the State. We are scheduled for our inspection and expect to receive our elevated license by the end of January. This will greatly increase our life saving capabilities for 2022, as there are many challenges waiting for transport units coming from great distances. This Advanced license increases our ability to keep patients alive and provide care until the transport agency arrives on scene, which in cases of inclement weather can exceed 30 minutes. Everyone in our service area will be able to count on a response that includes, at a minimum, an Advanced Emergency Medical Technician (A-EMT).
Funding and Revenue Sources
A key focus for the Department in 2021 was to identify and implement strategies that increase outside funding and revenue (non-fee based). Currently, we bill our time on wildland fires through an MOU with the State for fires in our area or fires for which we normally respond. We use the revenue collected under the MOU to pay our wildland firefighters for grueling work, improve and maintain our wildland equipment, and pay for our operational costs. After these expenses, we net approximately 55% of the payment, and this revenue can be used to offset other operational costs or staffing for the Department. In 2022, we plan to expand on our wildland program to include deployments outside of our response area to generate additional revenue. Diamond Valley has been successful with their deployment program which has had a significant impact on their operational budget, and we plan to model our program similarly and are discussing opportunities to cooperate on a deployment program for this year’s wildland season.
Our Grant Committee successfully secured several grants this year, including nearly $30K for new air packs, which we would have been required to purchase. We also received donations of equipment and much needed gear from other fire departments in Utah. These programs are key to building the Department’s self-funding sources and will enable us to set fees accordingly.
Cooperation and Consolidation
DVFR is the State-chartered EMS agency for a 110 square mile service area that includes communities outside Dammeron Valley: Diamond Valley, Veyo, Brookside, and Gunlock. We are legally required to provide our EMS response within our service area, and we cannot currently collect fees or payments for this service from other communities. This has been the case since the Department became an EMS provider more than 20 years ago. While the incremental costs of providing this service outside of Dammeron Valley are relatively small, we have been working with the County Commissioners over the last year to find a path that would allow a more equitable sharing of these costs across all the communities served.
As most of you are aware, in November the County Commissioners passed a resolution to form a new SSD called the Western Special Service District that will combine several departments, including DVFR. The fire chiefs from all affected departments are involved in this process but it takes time. The County has been working through the process, including holding a public comment hearing in December. Until final decisions are made, it is difficult to share information.
Cooperation among these departments is not new. We all witnessed our departments working together when the Veyo Volcano Fire threatened all of Pinion Hills. With no air support once night fell and limited available state and federal resources due to the lateness of the wildland season, crews from Brookside, Diamond Valley, Veyo, Gunlock, and Central stood with our members between the fire and Dammeron Valley, protecting our community as winds drove the fire close to crossing Sand Cove Road. We combine our resources to provide service to the entire SR18 corridor with regular frequency.
With costs for providing services skyrocketing, and demand for service growing, the best way for us to keep the costs down is to combine resources. The County has committed to financial support to help us in our combination of departments and working together is our best chance at keeping the fees of these communities low. This is a not an easy or quick process, but we will continue to provide the best service we can until the new SSD is formed. I will provide regular updates whenever confirmed information is available.
Our Members and Our Future
I have been renting a place in Dammeron Valley for a little over a year and during that short time there have been significant increases in property value, development, traffic, and risks to this community. The demand for service has increased significantly from 161 calls in 2019 to 183 in 2020 and 243 in 2021. The 90 calls we ran in Dammeron Valley in 2021 involved critical medical incidents and fires that threatened the entire community. The risks and incidences of wildland fires have increased, and as we saw in Colorado on December 30th where over 500 homes were lost, wildland fires are now a year-round threat and cannot always be stopped.
The model of the rural volunteer fire department is quickly changing. Our fire and EMS services are designated as “essential services” by the State of Utah, and we must deliver them in compliance with State regulations. The SSD’s mission and the Department’s Strategic Plan address these challenges in ways that mitigate risk to the community, increase the level of response we can provide, and protect our members.
Our strength is in our people. They have provided excellent service and sacrificed their own time and resources to better the department. We pay responders a per call stipend of $10-$20 based upon a policy that has been in place for several years. I pay additional stipends for those working on projects or providing training for their additional time commitment. It is not a lot, but it helps offset the personal costs of the members putting in extraordinary hours. My goal is to hire full-time employees to supplement volunteer efforts as funding and revenue are generated in the coming year, which ensures we comply with State mandated response times and levels of service.
I want to finish with a heartfelt thank you to the members of Dammeron Valley Fire & Rescue. This includes all the responders, communication director, grant committee members, audit committee members, volunteers, and people from the community who have pitched in to protect Dammeron Valley. You should be proud of your fire department, your board, and your neighbors. Thank you all for your continued commitment to protecting our community.
Chief Chet Barnes