Friday, February 20, 2009

Conflict threatens Hailey-Wood River fire pact

Express Staff Writer

Wood River Fire & Rescue officials have told Hailey leaders that they will terminate their automatic-aid agreement with the city's fire department unless specific changes to the contract are agreed to by March 1.

Under the agreement, Wood River firefighters are immediately dispatched to all structure fires within Hailey city limits, and must take the agency's aerial ladder truck. Wood River officials contend the requirement that they respond with this large piece of equipment could cause unnecessary delay.

But that's a conclusion with which Hailey officials evidently disagree.

A letter from the Wood River Fire Protection District commissioners delivered to Hailey on Thursday morning describes a scenario in which a fire is reported near Wood River's main station in downtown Hailey fire station. The letter states that the current agreement requires Wood River fire crews to leave their main station and drive across town to their second station, which houses the larger ladder truck.

"This puts our personnel in the untenable situation of driving away from, or in some cases past, a burning structure to retrieve a piece of equipment which may be of questionable necessity for a given incident," the letter states. "This action not only creates a time delay of more than four minutes, but would be indefensible in court as it may be construed as contrary to our 'duty to act.'"

The letter goes on to identify Hailey Fire Chief Mike Chapman as the person allegedly responsible for the delay in modifying the agreement to allow Wood River fire crews to initiate a more immediate response.

"He has consistently rebuffed our efforts and continues to maintain a position which defies common sense and is impossible for us to justify for numerous reasons, including condoning actions not in the best interests of the citizens of Hailey," the letter states.

Chapman could not be reached for comment by press deadline. However, in an interview conducted in May 2007, Chapman said that having the ladder truck respond immediately is critical to ensure that it doesn't get stuck behind other emergency vehicles.

If the "automatic-aid" agreement is terminated, a "mutual-aid" agreement will remain in effect. Under that, all fire departments in the Wood River Valley come to the aid of each other when requested to do so.

The issue dates back at least to the automatic-aid agreement's renewal in 2007.

A Dec. 24 letter from Hailey Mayor Rick Davis to Wood River provided the city's position.

"There is no doubt that life safety and property protection are the primary concerns for both our jurisdictions. However, it appears that our methods differ from those of your agency," Davis wrote. "I have confidence that (Hailey Fire) Chief Mike Chapman's 35 years of fire service, four academic degrees and his certification by the National Fire Academy as an executive fire officer places him in a position to determine the most proper apparatus response protocols for our city."

The mayor goes on to say that any change to the existing agreement would require the consent of both parties. And because the city hasn't agreed to the changes proposed by Wood River, the 2007 agreement remains the guiding document, he wrote.

"We hope that you respect our wish to have the aerial ladder as your initial response to any reported structure fire in Hailey," he stated.

Asked how the city will respond to Wood River's deadline, Dawson said that will be up to Chapman and Davis. She said the Hailey City Council won't be able to discuss the matter during its Monday, Feb. 23, meeting.

Jason Kauffman:

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