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Firefighters Being Called on Crime Duty

fire departmentCAVE JUNCTION, Ore. – As budget concerns continue to stifle Josephine County law enforcement, residents are beginning to look elsewhere. Now fire departments say they’re getting calls from people who see them as the only ones who will respond to crimes.

Last week the Illinois Valley Fire District responded to a call for medical aid, only to find a crazed man threatening a woman barricaded inside a house. But that is just the latest in a line of calls ranging from burglaries to domestic assaults to homicides.

While they don’t normally reply to these types of calls, volunteers with the department say the reports are misleading, sometimes complete lies.

When they arrive, they find a situation for which they are neither trained, nor equipped.

“I don’t carry anything more than a wrench, maybe a halogen, and that’s all I have at this point,” said volunteer Joe Latva. “And a pair of feet to get out of there.”

The department’s chief, Dennis Hoke, says low law enforcement budgets have caused residents to lose faith that police can protect them in time.

He says in the past few weeks the rate of misleading calls has increased significantly, and now people are even discussing it openly.

“You have a situation where somebody says, ‘somebody’s looking in our house.’ They put it on Facebook and then [friends] are advising them to call it in as something else,” said Hoke.

Right now, Josephine County has only one patrol deputy. Another is contracted to the city of Cave Junction, while two more are contracted to work on forest service land. Oregon State Police, meanwhile, has a tough time reaching some areas of the county.

But even if firefighters are the only ones around, they say they have to leave immediately if there’s a crime scene — and then call police.

“We absolutely withdraw,” said Hoke. “We have no role in law enforcement whatsoever.”

Hoke says the best thing people can do is relay the right information to 911 dispatchers, that way if they can’t respond they can call someone who can.

Meanwhile the county is expected to vote on another public safety levy on the May ballot. That levy doesn’t have any money earmarked for patrol deputies, but reportedly could allow extra general funds to be used for that cause.

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