Friday, September 3, 2004

It?s time to consolidate fire protection operations


By JAMES FREHLING

James Frehling is the commission chairman of the Wood River Fire Protection District.

I read with great excitement County Commissioner Dennis Wright's letter of Aug. 25, and I think he is absolutely correct. When I was first elected commissioner to the Wood River Fire Protection District, I couldn't get a satisfactory explanation why there were so many fire de-partments in this valley. I have been told that the evolution of individual mining communities and their relative isolation from one another was perhaps the main reason. As the Wood River Valley became more populated the differences in the demographics between communities continued. Whether or not this was the best reason, the development of the valley and its available resources, people and transportation issues rendered that characterization obsolete a long time ago.

When you consider the cost of providing fire protection and emer-gency medical service separately by each town and fire district (four departments in the south valley and three in the north, not counting the airport), we have created a tax burden that is inefficient and unnecessary for property owners throughout the valley. Far greater efficiencies in services can be maintained when new models are developed.

For example: When the Blaine County Ambulance District contracted with Wood River Fire Protection District in the south valley, and Ketchum City Fire and Ketchum Rural Fire Protection District in the north valley, we were able to provide full time personnel in stations manned 24 hours with huge efficiencies in cost. We now provide Para-medic Medical Service to the entire county at a very attractive cost. Wood River built a fire station with the Bureau of Land Management, providing tremendous cost savings and better response for fire and medi-cal coverage as well as full time summer response for wild land fire protection from the BLM. Ketchum Rural FPD and Wood River FPD have mutual automatic response in the mid valley. Bellevue, Hailey and Wood River have recently imposed automatic responses of equipment to each other's jurisdiction. I believe that this has created significant benefit to my Fire District. Increased cooperation between the departments pro-vides better services to residents throughout the valley.

But, most importantly, why does each jurisdiction in the mid-valley need our own independent fire departments, duplicating the very expen-sive basic services we each provide? Coordinated master planning, shared station construction and equipment purchases, personnel sharing, and contractual service agreements between rural and city jurisdictions could provide much more effective cost management and tax relief for residents and property owners. In the past, these opportunities have been missed.

I believe this is what Commissioner Wright is referring to. I also believe that it is time for elected officials in Bellevue, Hailey, and the Wood River Fire Protection District to seriously explore opportunities for combined operations and shared capital improvements to the mutual benefit of mid-valley residents and property owners, together.




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