Fire district consolidation will enhance public safety, position valley for the future
I am a passionate believer that collaboration is by far a better way to get things done in a community than operating in silos with organizations doing their own thing in isolation. You can accomplish more working together.
That’s why I think the proposed consolidation of Chelan County Fire District 1 with Douglas County Fire District 2 is absolutely essential in developing a valley-wide approach to fire protection that will put more firefighters into the field and reduce the number of administrators. Voting ‘yes’ on Proposition 1, which will be mailed to voters on July 15, is a proverbial no-brainer for those of us interested in the long-term best interest of the valley.
Voters in each jurisdiction must collectively approve the measure by a simple majority for the merger to happen.
The Wenatchee Valley is growing at a rapid pace and hundreds of millions of dollars of investment are either in the works or anticipated, with the redevelopment of the Lineage properties, the Microsoft development in Malaga and the development of Chelan County Public Utility District’s 5th street headquarters. With rapid growth comes some wonderful opportunities but also major challenges and so we need to be thinking to the future and setting ourselves up for success.
We could continue on with separate fire departments that have mutual aid agreements in place, but both fire districts will be far better able to serve the communities by consolidating.
A merged fire department offers numerous advantages. It will ensure that the closest additional fire crews will be responding to an emergency. Rather than having two fleet maintenance shops, there would be one. The fire training facility in Chelan County would be used to train all of the firefighters rather than just Chelan County’s. Consolidation would also reduce the number of fire chiefs in the valley, thereby reducing overhead.
These are the same issues that led our valley to consolidate port districts into a combined port authority. The logic was solid then and the same logic applies to the fire districts.
I recently spoke with Chief Brian Brett who has been serving for the past few years as head of both fire districts. Fire commissioners in Douglas County, faced with multiple openings for fire chiefs, made a wise choice to ask Brett to serve in that capacity.
Brett, a native of the valley who has worked for both fire districts, also is a CPA and works with Cordell Neher during tax season. He was a great choice, given his financial and firefighting background, to study the benefits of a consolidated district. You couldn’t ask for a more effective leader.
A merger has been discussed before, but one of the things that has changed is that the number of volunteer firefighters has dramatically declined in the past decade. Limited numbers of volunteers mean that the fire stations aren’t adequately staffed. Under a consolidation, the two districts wouldn’t be competing for volunteers and those volunteers, including college students, would be used more effectively, according to Brett.
Fifteen years ago, Brett said, there were plenty of volunteer firefighters for both districts. If you don’t have volunteers to fill out crews, your only choice is to hire paid firefighters. That makes a consolidation essential. “People are the scarce resource” when it comes to responding to emergencies.
Another advantage of a combined department is that they’ll be able to take advantage of discount opportunities for bulk purchases for fire apparatus and equipment.
Taxpayers will be paying a little more, at least initially, to launch the consolidation. The initial rate will be $1.50 per thousand dollars of assessed valuation. This is a small price to pay for a consolidated fire department that will more efficiently and effectively provide emergency services.
To me, the choice is clear. Chelan County Fire District 1 and Douglas County Fire District 2 will be better together.