The Lebanon Fire District marked the official opening of its new life jacket kiosks with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Gill's Landing.

Fire Chief Gordon Sletmoe said the occasion gave him the opportunity to think about the department's role in the community.

"What does this have to do with the fire department? The fire department responds to fires and we have the big red trucks and we respond to ambulance calls. We're a response agency," Sletmoe said. "The reason we do that is because this is our community, we care about our community, and prevention is better than reaction any day."

The ceremony was held on Tuesday, July 16, but the three kiosks - one located at Gill's Landing and two more at the Waterloo Park boat ramps - had already been in use for a couple of weeks.

Each kiosk has new life jackets in a variety of sizes which can be checked out and then returned. Since the kiosks were installed, the life jackets had been checked out, used, and returned about 60 times.

Division Chief Jason Bolen was one of the individuals who pushed the program forward.

"When I took this fire marshal position three years ago, this was one of the top things I had on my list to do," Bolen said. "It was something I felt was lacking in Lebanon. Getting it to fruition was a little tough and it took some time."

Bolen echoed Chief Sletmoe's thoughts about public safety.

"Really, this all falls back to 'what can we do in our community to be more pro-active about safety?'" Bolen said. "In our division we're all about code enforcement and fire investigation and public education. A lot of what we do focuses on after the event. When you talk about prevention, it's hard to point out the fire that didn't happen, the accident that didn't occur."

The great thing about the life jackets, Bolen said, is that you can see the life jackets being used out on the water and know the program is working to make people safer.

The fire district originally planned on building one kiosk, expecting it to cost about $5,000. Thanks to support from community partners, and with Deputy Fire Marshal Ken Foster taking on the construction work, all three kiosks were built for roughly that amount.

"Thanks to the generosity of our community and our small business owners, we were able to do three of these," Bolen said.

The Fire District received a $4,500 grant for the project from the Lebanon Tourism Committee. Those funds are generated by the city's hotel tax.

Briese Custom Concrete, Kerry Whitlatch of Farmers Insurance, Gateway Imprints, the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce, Stability Engineering, and Summit Home & Garden were the primary sponsors of the project. The City of Lebanon and Linn County also supported the program by waiving the relevant fees.

The kiosks will be open each year from March through October. Over the winter, life jackets will still be available for checkout at the fire station on West Oak Street.

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