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Antelope nets free emergency vehicles

Owing to the extensive efforts of its new chief, Antelope’s volunteer fire department has acquired — for free — emergency vehicles, plus fire and rescue equipment.

Chief Michael Carter has received five fire and ambulance vehicles and numerous pieces of equipment, including turnouts, the protective suits worn by firefighters. For insurance purposes, the assorted vehicles and equipment are valued at close to $200,000.

“I’ve contacted over 1,000 private manufacturers and several hundred fire departments to get this stuff,” Carter said.

Vehicles include a 1975 Ford Pirsch fire engine and a 1993 Western States Type I wildland fire truck. “That took many failures and attempts and I came close several times, but this is the best of the batch,” Carter said of the find, which came from Depoe Bay. He literally cried when it arrived after a two-year effort.

The wildland fire truck has a 1,000-gallon capacity and pumps 1,500 gallons a minute. The old pumper had a 500-gallon capacity and pumps 800 gallons a minute.

Also included is a type 1 four-by-four ambulance from Warm Springs and a four-wheel drive Type 6 brush engine, which is a one-ton pickup with a tank on the back.

Finally, they have a 1996 Chevy Tahoe command vehicle.

Carter, 49, was a paramedic for 10 years in California before moving to Antelope in 2011. He’d first learned of the small town in southern Wasco County during a previous job with an ambulance service in Grant County in eastern Oregon. He’d always planned to move to Antelope eventually, he said.

Assistant Chief Tim Richardson said Carter found that getting equipment donated “turned out to be a forte for him. He got us, I’m kidding you not, hundreds of thousands of dollars of firefighting equipment donated.”

“We’ve got fire hose coming out of our ears. It’s been like that with everything,” he said. They have donated ladders, six brand new fire axes, an inflatable air bag to lift collapsed structures or vehicles off people, automatic defibrillators, a stretcher – even decals for their vehicles. “It’s just been one thing after another.”

The department has two Jaws of Life, which is equipment used to cut trapped people out of vehicles. It also has up to date breathing apparatus and even a nighttime landing zone kit for helicopters.

The fire department building was built by the Rajneesh, the cult that took over the town in the early 1980s. The two-bay building is now run down and the vehicles “barely fit in there,” Carter said.

“We’re actually, for a tiny department like ours we’re really well set up, but what we need is more people and training,” Carter said.

He has 12 volunteers now. “There’s 40-50 people in our town, so that’s a good chunk of our population right there.”

Now he’d like instructors to come to Antelope to provide fire and emergency medical training.

Richardson said the goal is to become a licensed ambulance and transport service.

While a licensed paramedic in California, Carter said he needs an associate’s degree to qualify as a paramedic in Oregon. He’s working on that now.

As for fire training, Carter said, “Right now we’re a frontier firefighting force. There is a distinction between that and a structure firefighting force.”A structure firefighting force can enter a burning building and do search and rescue and fire suppression, “because we don’t have that training, we can’t enter a building.”

When Carter moved to town, a friend suggested he join the fire department. He looked around and said, “What fire department?”

Richardson said the fire department had a few semi-functional vehicles and a bit of rotten hose which, “blew apart” when tested.

Carter tossed the old equipment and began seeking donations.

As for equipment, his goal is to have two engines, so they will still have a backup if a second call comes in. His biggest need is a “good sized water tender.”

Carter has gotten so much free equipment that he’s sent some on to Grass Valley, Mitchell and Fossil.

He works as a live-in healthcare giver, but spends maybe 60 hours a month on fire department business.

Antelope’s fire rating is a 10, which means zero fire protection. As recently as 2007, it had a seven rating. Just dropping from a seven to a 10 meant homeowner’s insurance rates tripled or quadrupled, Carter said.

One goal of his is to reverse the trend of worsening fire ratings.

Structure fires are rare in town, Richardson said. “But when they happen, it’s a pretty traumatic thing because there’s no way to stop it.”

The last fire, in winter 2010, saw a historic home lost. By the time Shaniko responded – from a town eight miles away, whose volunteers are an additional 20 to 40 minutes from the station — all they could do was protect nearby structures.

Carter’s tenure has not been without controversy. A brief working relationship with South Sherman Fire Protection District soured. Antelope’s longtime use of the Shaniko volunteer fire department’s radio frequency was also withdrawn after South Sherman took over the Shaniko department.

Glenn Fluhr, chief of South Sherman, said he soured on Antelope when its volunteers attended a months-long fire academy at his district, but didn’t attend the final test.

Carter said he told Fluhr they couldn’t go that day because a local man’s recent death affected them all. He asked to reschedule, but it didn’t happen.

Fluhr said he ended the shared radio frequency arrangement because the volunteers were not certified. “You can’t be a t-shirt firefighter anymore. There’s too much liability,” he said.

Fluhr still wants a mutual aid agreement with Antelope – “it makes sense” — but the training is needed.

Richardson noted Carter had to scramble to find new radio communications. And with what they have now, “We’re actually far better off, so it was actually a blessing, what happened.”

Richardson added, “nobody’s perfect, nobody thinks Mike is an angel… but they [the Antelope City council] are extremely appreciative of what he has done for the town and community.”

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