Guest opinion by Leah EV Ireland: The recent front page photo of the Bloomsbury Bookstore newsstand being hauled away marks the decline and fall of Ashland and America.

As the new fire chief, one of my goals is to keep the public informed about the status, capability and needs of this important arm of public safety. I therefore want to respond to a recent letter to the editor concerning the tax burden and the fire service in Ashland.

Ashland Fire & Rescue will resume fire prevention/life safety inspections of commercial and multi-family buildings within a few weeks after a many-year hiatus. In addition to an informed public, professional fire inspections are a cornerstone of fire prevention in nearly all communities. When I became the fire chief last June, I was concerned about the very real danger to our property owners, businesses, their patrons and our firefighters due to an absence of inspections and public education.

More than 10 years ago, Ashland Fire & Rescue performed basic fire inspections with firefighters. We stopped because the number of calls for emergency medical services skyrocketed and our staffing stayed the same. We weren't able to complete the inspections and also respond to calls.

Based on my recommendation, the City Council directed Ashland Fire & Rescue to resume fire prevention/life safety inspections. As in the past, our new program will include inspections by on-duty firefighters. Since we stopped doing these inspections, the Oregon state fire marshall now requires certification for staff who perform these inspections. Because of the cost of the certifications, Ashland Fire & Rescue will charge for these inspections.

The fees depend on the size and hazard classification of the occupancy and will range from $32 to $192 every two years. These are not taxes, but fees designed to cover costs. If there are sufficient revenues, I will request that the city restore the fire inspector position that was cut two years ago so we can increase our effectiveness in inspecting the places with the highest risks to life safety and to ensure new construction projects are as safe as possible.

The recent letter to editor also referenced the 2006 bond measure for an aerial ladder truck. The need for this truck was identified in a citywide study in 1993, and it would be used to fight fires in buildings more than three stories tall and buildings with large, flat roofs. The bond measure failed, 4629 to 4406, and this truck has not been purchased by the city. Currently the only aerial ladder truck available to Ashland belongs to the Medford Fire Department. If Ashland has a fire where this aerial truck is required, we will do everything we can to fight the fire until that equipment and crew arrives. I believe this puts Ashland at higher risk, and I will be discussing those risks with the City Council and community.

Other than a grant funded engine for wildland fires, Ashland Fire & Rescue's newest fire engine is eight years old and the next newest is 18 years old.

Finally, the Ashland Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) coordinator is funded in the current budget. The City Council is strongly in support of the CERT program and I intend to replace the current coordinator when she leaves the city later this year. I also intend to ensure that CERT continues to be a valued, effective program with the limited funds that are available and that the city uses grant funds and volunteer resources to ensure Ashland citizens are prepared for any event or disaster that might come our way.

John Karns is the chief of Ashland Fire & Rescue.