Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Public chimes in on consolidation

Consultant studying south valley emergency services

Express Staff Writer

People who attended the first public meeting on an ongoing study of emergency services in southern Blaine County urged that the study focus on what's best for the public, both in terms of service and finances.

"That's all that matters—what's in the best interest of the citizens we serve," one firefighter said. "If you answer that honestly, the answer will be obvious."

The meeting Thursday, Nov. 4, at the Community Campus in Hailey was conducted by consultant Lane Wintermute from Hayden Lake, Idaho. About two dozen people attended.

Wintermute, of Emergency Services Consulting International, has been asked by Hailey, Bellevue and Wood River Fire & Rescue leaders to complete an inventory of emergency response resources in southern Blaine County with the goal of making recommendations for improvements. A key question is how to improve cooperation that goes beyond the mutual-aid response protocols already in place.

Discussions of a possible consolidation of several agencies have been ongoing for many years. The long-awaited study could lead to consolidation of fire and emergency medical agencies and thereby reduce cost and provide more efficient services.

Eight entities, from the Carey Rural Fire District to the much larger Hailey Fire Department and Wood River Fire & Rescue, are being interviewed. The city of Hailey and the Wood River Fire Protection District are splitting the study's $48,000 cost.

Whether the recommendation will result in consolidation is unknown, Wintermute said, adding that politicians, emergency service administrators, emergency volunteers and the public will have to decide how to use the data that his group is collecting.

The review, titled "Cooperative Efforts Feasibility Study Project," will also compile financial data, gathering detailed information on equipment inventories, budgeting and emergency response records from stakeholders. It will be presented along with feedback from the various departments' employees and volunteers early next year.

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