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Updated: Firefighters battle commercial fire in Empire District

COOS BAY — Coos Bay and North Bend firefighters battled a structure fire in the 100 block South Wasson Street Monday night near Newmark Avenue in the Empire District.

Ed Glazar, The World 

Evacuees and bystanders watch a structure fire Monday night in the 100 block of South Wasson Street in Empire.

According to a Coos Bay Fire Department press release, at 7:05 p.m., the CBFD responded to 141 S Wasson in the Empire District on a report of a smoke and fire coming from a commercial building. First arriving units found a two story commercial building with heavy smoke and fire showing. The structure that was next door to the fire was less than one foot away. Due to the size of the fire and the exposure, mutual aid was requested from North Bend Fire and Charleston Fire.

Emergency crews from Coos Bay Fire, Coos Bay Police Department, Coos Bay Fire and Rescue, North Bend Fire and Rescue and Bay Cities Ambulance rushed to the scene of a structure fire in Empire Monday evening. The state fire marshal was apparently also on site.

Ed Glazar, The World 

Coos Bay and North Bend fire fighters battle a structure fire Monday night in the 100 block of South Wasson Street in Empire.

Fire suppression activities lasted nearly 6 hours. Members of the Coos Bay Fire Department remained on scene throughout the night. The Fire Investigation Team will gather at the site to resume the investigation Tuesday morning. At this point the fire is still under investigation.

Bonny Goodwin has lived in Empire three years. She was among many who stood and watched the blaze erupt.

For Goodwin, she said she knew the tragedy was coming "'cause the guy just had too many junks and I was told it (the property) was condemned."

"I've heard this from everybody that lives here," Goodwin said. "When I saw it (the inferno), I thought they (fire department personnel) were doing a fire test. This guy never kept this place up."

Melody Graves lives about one block down from where the fire occurred.

"My mom was outside taking out the garbage and I asked where it is," she said. "Like I've never seen a fire like this."

Taking a moment, she watched firefighters, saying "I really have a lot of respect for them."

"I've never seen a house fire or anything before so this is completely shocking," Graves said. "I really hope it's able to get under control and that nobody was hurt."

Ed Glazar, The World 

Coos Bay and North Bend fire fighters battle a structure fire Monday night in the 100 block of South Wasson Street in Empire.

A total of 35 firefighters, five engines, one ladder truck, one rescue  and three staff vehicles responded to the scene. The Coos Bay Fire Department was assisted at the scene by North Bend Fire Department, Charleston Fire Department, Coos Bay Police Department, Bay Cities Ambulance, Pacific Power, and Coos Bay/North Bend Water Board.

Coquille Tribal Community Fund grant helps keep firefighters safe

MYRTLE POINT — Fighting fires is dangerous twice.

Obviously, plunging into a burning building is risky. But as it turns out, the danger doesn’t stop when firefighters return to the station.

Clark Walworth, Special to The World 

The digits “1 A 03” indicate this air tank has been around since January 2003. At age 15, it’s due for retirement.

“Firefighters are at super high risk for cancer,” said Willy Burris, Myrtle Point’s assistant fire chief.

Burris, Chief Daniel Gardner and the volunteers on Myrtle Point’s fire crew can breathe a little easier — literally — with help from a $6,000 grant from the Coquille Tribal Community Fund. The grant will help replace the department’s aging protective gear.

A “self-contained breathing apparatus” — a backpack-mounted air tank and mask — protects a firefighter’s life on the job, while reducing long-term effects of toxic smoke. But Myrtle Point’s battered equipment no longer inspires confidence.

“It’s in the back of your mind: I hope this thing doesn’t fail,” Burris said.

The department’s 15-year-old air tanks are hitting their legal expiration dates, and the accompanying gear is increasingly temperamental. A tiny malfunction can make exhaling difficult, and replacement parts are hard to find. Some volunteers are reluctant to wear the gear, despite its life-saving importance.

“Any time you’re breathing smoke, you need to wear your mask,” Burris said.

In a study completed in 2015, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found increased incidence of cancer diagnoses and cancer deaths among firefighters. Digestive, oral, respiratory and urinary cancers were the most common. Firefighters also were susceptible to malignant mesothelioma, a rare cancer caused by asbestos exposure.

Burris notes that today’s buildings are full of synthetic materials that produce toxic substances when burned, including cyanide. Fire departments nationwide have been advised to clean their turnout gear after each fire to remove hazardous residue.

The new breathing apparatus will feature straps that can be removed easily for laundering. It also features a more comfortable design than the old gear. Burris said the department studied what’s on the market and chose a relatively basic model rather than a more deluxe setup.

“There’s less stuff to go wrong,” he explained.

Myrtle Point’s $6,000 public safety grant is one of six awarded by the Coquille Tribal Community Fund this year. Public safety accounts for $37,000 of the tribe’s more than $290,000 in 2018 grants.

Tribal member Jackie Chambers, who coordinates the Community Fund, said the Coquille Tribe is pleased to be able to help Myrtle Point’s volunteer heroes.

“Not only will this new gear help them provide services to the local community, but in neighboring communities as well,” she said. “We thank the Myrtle Point Fire Department for over 100 years of service.”

About Grant Week

Supported by proceeds from The Mill Casino in North Bend, the Coquille Tribal Community Fund distributes grants each year to nonprofit organizations and public agencies. The Myrtle Point Fire Department is one of six grantees this year with public safety missions. In all, 57 organizations are receiving $291,164. Since 2001, the fund has distributed more than $6.1 million.

Watch for additional grant announcements throughout this week. Learn more at

Trump says he's willing to buck NRA; Congress not so sure (copy)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump declared Monday he's willing to take on the National Rifle Association over gun legislation, but Republicans who control Congress aren't so sure. They prefer to consider only modest changes to firearms limits in response to the mass shooting at a Florida high school.

Congress returned to work Monday without following Trump's lead on any of the major initiatives he has tossed into the debate since the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Despite public calls for stricter gun laws, Republican leaders have largely kept quiet after the shooting which left 17 dead and ushered in another phase in the gun debate, prompted in large part by the activism of the young survivors.

Over the weekend, Trump spent time talking to Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, and the White House is inviting lawmakers from both parties for meetings this week. But Trump's ideas to arm many teachers, lift the minimum age for buying assault rifles to 21 and impose stricter background checks were falling flat.

"You guys, half of you are so afraid of the NRA," the president said Monday at a meeting with the nation's governors. "There's nothing to be afraid of. And you know what? If they're not with you, we have to fight them every once in a while. That's OK."

Instead, Senate Republicans are hoping to consider more modest legislation from Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., to strengthen the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The "Fix NICS" bill, similar to one approved last year in the House, would penalize federal agencies that don't properly report required records used to determine whether someone can legally buy a gun.

While speaking to a roomful of governors at the White House on Monday, Trump, who's been highly critical of the law enforcement response to the Florida school shootings, said he would have rushed in, unarmed, if he'd been there.

"You don't know until you're tested, but I think I really believe I'd run in there even if I didn't have a weapon, and I think most of the people in this room would have done that, too," he said.

His session with the governors, in Washington for their annual winter meeting, was heavily focused on finding ways to address the massacre of 17 students and teachers in the school shooting.

Trump said anew that he was disappointed in officers who didn't stop the gunman, calling their performance "frankly disgusting."

Scot Peterson has been called a coward and worse for failing to act during the massacre. The criticism intensified Monday as Trump blasted the deputy and other officers who were there, saying they "weren't exactly Medal of Honor winners."

Peterson's attorney, issuing his first public statement about the attack, said it was "patently untrue" that the deputy failed to meet sheriff's department standards or acted with cowardice at the scene of the Feb. 14 assault. He resigned after Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said he felt sick to his stomach over his deputy's failure to intervene.

"Let there be no mistake, Mr. Peterson wishes that he could have prevented the untimely passing of the 17 victims on that day, and his heart goes out to the families of the victims in their time of need," attorney Joseph DiRuzzo said in the statement.

The sheriff's account of Peterson's actions that day was a "gross oversimplification," the attorney said.

The sheriff's office declined comment, explaining that Peterson's conduct is being investigated by its internal affairs division.

Peterson's statement said he and a security specialist ran to the scene at first word of the shooting, a report that mistakenly said firecrackers were being set off near one building. He then heard gunshots "but believed that those gunshots were originating from outside of the buildings."

Earlier Monday, gun control supporters on the steps of the Florida's Capitol kept up their protests. Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, now a Democratic candidate for governor, led more than 1,000 people rallying for a ban on assault rifles and criticizing the National Rifle Association for its proposal to arm teachers.

County staff meet for early budget negotiations

COQUILLE — Coos County Board of Commissioners will be meeting with county offices this week to establish a preliminary budget for next month’s budget hearings.

One contentious point in these preliminary discussions are supervisors and elected officials who are being paid less than those they supervise.

Coos County Commissioner Bob Main said, “The argument that you make less than the people you supervise, I understand that. Until I know where we’re at, I can’t say yes,”

According to Main there are around 50 county employees that make more than the commissioners.

Most county offices and departments are having to spend significantly more on contracted services than in previous years.

The county assessor was first to meet with commissioners Monday and presented a budget that increased $68,550 from last fiscal year’s budget. The Assessor’s office was adamant about getting some new computers. According to County Assessor Steve Jansen, some of its current computers are too old to load the mapping software the county uses.

It's important to note that many of the cost increases associated with the Assessors budget were out of the offices control. Union cost contracts and county cost allocation account for a majority the increases.

The county clerk proposed a budget that was 6.27 percent higher than the previous year, which is a $37,658 increase over last year. The county clerk’s office was happy to report that the way it’s been sending out ballots has never been more efficient than in 2017.

Information Technology‘s new budget request is $67,764 more than the previous year. One of the new costs at for the IT department, is surveillance equipment for the Beaver Hill Waste Disposal Site. According to IT officials, there have been a number of people breaking into the site and stealing recyclable metals.

“The budget has been status quo so far, we’re going to go through every department to see where we’re at,” Main said.

Main and Commissioner Melisa Cribbins think that the budget, once all departments have been totaled will come in over the county’s spending limit and things will have to be changed and individual budgets modified.

“Nobody should be asking for additional staff and we’re not seeing any dramatic pay raises and when we do we’re telling people that they’re likely not going to happen,” Cribbins said.

Preliminary budget negotiations continued today.