Friday, April 24, 2009

Quench the flames

Hailey's call for a summit meeting and independent study of consolidating its fire department with Wood River Fire and Rescue and the Blaine County Ambulance district is a much needed move on an issue that has been too long choked by smoke—the political kind.

For years, the mostly volunteer Hailey Fire Department literally has lived in the building next door to Wood River Fire and Rescue, a station staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Every time someone whispered the word "consolidation," a howl would go up from Hailey officials about how utterly unnecessary it was to combine the two.

The reluctance seemed to stem from internal rivalries between the departments and the city's desire to have its own independent fire department, even though its volunteers understandably got to fires far later than the on-site professionals in the Wood River department.

But in 2006, Hailey voters changed the game when they defeated a $2.3 million bond issue for a new fire station in Woodside, in part because the consolidation question muddied the debate.

Then last month, Wood River demanded that Hailey change a mutual-aid agreement, and when the city balked, Wood River said it would leave Hailey on its own.

The sticking point was a policy that forced Wood River firefighters to go across town and retrieve a ladder truck at a second station before they were allowed to show up with other equipment at a blaze—even if it were across the street.

The policy sounds crazy.

The departments are ripe for consolidation, and the political climate in Hailey has changed. With Mayor Rick Davis behind the call for a consolidation study, the matter has a chance to be resolved.

In today's distressed economic climate, no city, county or tax district—or any department within them—can afford to refuse to look at streamlining operations. Better to plan wisely than risk the devastation of a fully involved financial blaze.

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