Friday, April 17, 2009

Hailey calls for fire and EMS summit

Inventory of services could lead to consolidation talks

Express Staff Writer

Firefighters from Blaine County and the city of Hailey respond to a fire in the south county. Hailey officials have asked for a study of how various agencies respond to emergencies in the south county. Photo by Mountain Express

Hailey city leaders have called for a meeting of south county fire departments and emergency medical service agencies to analyze the efficiency of emergency responses in the area.

The meeting, if it takes place, could be the first step toward a consolidation of county and city services to save money.

Hailey officials are hoping that Wood River Fire and Rescue, the Blaine County Ambulance District and the cities of Hailey, Bellevue and Carey will chip in for an independent study of the costs and benefits of the existing emergency services in the south county.

In a letter sent this week to the various agencies and Carey Mayor Rick Baird, Hailey Mayor Rick Davis called for a "summit meeting" to consider whether there is common interest among the jurisdictions in supporting an independent study.

"Together we may launch a study that begins to answer many of the questions about emergency services costs and the benefits or detriments of all models of organizational structure," the letter states.

The "models" Davis refers to are plans for consolidation that range from contracts for services between existing entities to the establishment of a new taxing district incorporating all fire-fighting agencies.

"The question must be asked, 'What level of protection do you want?'" said Hailey Fire Chief Mike Chapman. "I'd like to start with a blank slate and see what is financially feasible and what is politically feasible. How can we do things better, cheaper and faster?"

The Hailey Fire Department and Wood River Fire and Rescue, managed by Blaine County, have fire stations next door to one another in central Hailey, a fact that Chapman says has led to a false perception of redundancy in services.

"I don't think we have too many firefighters in the area right now, but there is a concern with any consolidation effort, who will have a job in the end?" he said.

Wood River Fire and Rescue Chief Bart Lassman has pushed for consolidation in the past. He recently told the Mountain Express that he has a contract-for-services model prepared for the city of Hailey that could save the city $100,000 in the first year.

"Under this contract for services, both the city and Wood River Fire and Rescue taxing districts retain their current rates," Lassman said.

County Commissioner Larry Schoen, chairman of the Blaine County Ambulance District, responded positively to the request for a meeting.

"It is important to pursue these avenues of consolidation," he said.

While there is growing support from the five agencies to meet and discuss the pros and cons of paying for a study to discuss consolidation of fire and emergency response services in the south valley, a date for the meeting has not been set.

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