Friday, March 13, 2009

Wood River Fire cuts ties with Hailey

Ladder truck requirement a sticking point

Express Staff Writer

Officials with the Wood River Fire & Rescue Department have notified Hailey leaders that they are ending their automatic-aid agreement with the city’s fire department. Photo by David N. Seelig

Wood River Fire & Rescue officials have notified Hailey leaders that they are officially terminating their automatic-aid agreement with the city's fire department, effective April 12.

Under the agreement, Wood River firefighters are immediately dispatched to all structure fires within Hailey, and must take the agency's aerial-ladder truck. Wood River officials say the requirement that they respond with the ladder truck could cause unnecessary delay.

Repeated requests by Wood River asking that they be allowed to change that requirement so they can respond to fires within Hailey city limits more quickly have been rejected by city officials.

The 30-day notice of termination outlined in a letter Thursday could be stopped if Hailey officials agree to renegotiate the ladder truck requirement, Wood River Fire Chief Bart Lassman said. He said the three-member Fire Commission for the Wood River Fire Protection District is still open to talking with Hailey about the agreement.

A mid-February letter from Wood River to Hailey described a scenario in which a fire is reported near Wood River's main station in downtown Hailey. The letter stated that the current automatic aid agreement requires Wood River fire crews to leave their main station and drive across town to their second station, which houses the larger truck.

According to Wood River officials, this puts their personnel in the untenable situation of driving away from, or in some cases past, a burning structure to retrieve the ladder truck. They claim the large piece of equipment may be of questionable necessity on many fires.

According to Hailey City Administrator Heather Dawson, the most recent letter the city received yesterday does seem to leave the door open to further negotiations to fix the impasse before the termination date.

Dawson also said that, as recently as a few weeks ago, the city sat down with one of the Wood River commissioners, Jay Bailet, to discuss possible solutions. One of these is the possibility of housing the ladder truck in a new Woodside fire station the city hopes to build.

Hailey officials envision that station as a possible joint station shared by Wood River and Hailey firefighters.

She said the city's desire is to develop a "more robust agreement" with Wood River that could solve some of these disagreements. Another possibility brought up with Bailet was the feasibility of Hailey actually purchasing the ladder truck from Wood River.

"They weren't interested in selling it," she said.

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

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