Cleo Howell, photo courtesy Cleo Howell

Cleo Howell, 70, is running for a fourth term on the Forest Grove Rural Fire Protection Board in position 1, and is running unopposed for the seat. 

A Gales Creek resident, Howell said that his main reason for seeking another term in office is to see through the possibility of some form of merger or consolidation between most western Washington County fire agencies. 

The idea of bringing local fire agencies together is not new; Forest Grove Fire & Rescue has provided services to Gales Creek and the other communities in the Forest Grove Rural Fire Protection District for decades, and all of the local agencies have various agreements in place to cooperate on emergency matters.

Forest Grove, Cornelius, and Gaston fire departments share a fire chief already. 

Banks Fire District has opted out of any merger potential, Howell said, at least for now. 

“It’s something that we need to do,” Howell said. “I’m not sure exactly what that looks like. We just need to find a more effective and efficient way to provide fire and medical services to people in western Washington County,” Howell said. 

If local agencies, some of which — such as the board Howell sits on — are led by elected officials, do merge, Howell says he doesn’t think there’s danger of a loss of representation for local residents in decisions made regarding fire and medical services. 

“We would have to figure out a way to have representation on the new board of directors, however that looks like, so I think that we’re still gonna have local representation on the governing body.

“There’s still gonna be stations in Gaston, and Cornelius, and Forest Grove,” Howell said. 

He said the future could even see a new station built somewhere in the western part of Washington County.

“I think there’s still gonna be a local feel to the fire department,” he said. 

The Forest Grove Rural Fire Protection District Board has been a fairly quiet board in the past.

“The main thing that we do, is we control the spending of money that taxpayers provide through property taxes, and we have some timber revenue,” Howell said. 

The board also makes other strategic decisions, such as purchasing and placing a manufactured home on the property next to the Gales Creek Fire Station, which provides free housing as an incentive to volunteers to keep a more active first responder presence in the Gales Creek community, and adding more fire hydrants in rural areas to increase water availability for firefighting efforts. 

The move to place the mobile home in Gales Creek is what Howell describes as his best accomplishment in his tenure on the board. 

“We didn’t have enough volunteers living right here in the Gales Creek area that can respond to calls, so doing that was an effort to try to have people available for calls right here in the Gales Creek area,” Howell said. 

Howell said that if local residents want to get involved in the governance of the Forest Grove Rural Fire Protection District, they can participate in the regular business meetings of the board, and also join the budget committee, which convenes annually to put together the board’s budget. Five community members are brought together to aid in setting up a budget with the board of directors.

Call Forest Grove Fire & Rescue at (503) 992-3240 for more information on joining the budget committee or getting information on regular board meetings, which are open to the public, and have an opportunity for public comment. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, meetings are currently held online. 

Cleo expressed his thanks for support of the board — through residents’ tax dollars — and said he expected that the public would hear more from the agency in the coming months on the possibility of consolidation in the future, and said that an opinion poll might go out to local residents on the topic. 

The special district election will end May 18 at 8 p.m.; it is too late to mail a ballot, but voters can visit a 24-hour ballot drop box on Pacific Ave. in front of the Forest Grove City Library, in the driveway of the Banks Public Library, and at other locations dotted throughout the county