Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bellevue calls for fire-response standards

Council weighs cost of providing continuing service


By TONY EVANS
Express Staff Writer

The Bellevue City Council is taking a close look at the city's fire-fighting force in the wake of a recent recommendation by consultants that the city merge with Wood River Fire & Rescue and the Hailey Fire Department.

During a meeting on Thursday, Feb. 10, the council instructed Fire Chief Greg Beaver to come up with acceptable fire response-time standards for the city as it considers a list of consolidation options put forward by Emergency Services Consulting International earlier this month.

The consultant was commissioned last year to conduct a feasibility study of consolidation possibilities among the Bellevue and Hailey fire departments and Wood River Fire & Rescue, which serves a far-ranging district outside the towns and assists city departments.

The study recommended the eventual annexation of Bellevue and Hailey into Wood River Fire & Rescue, including scenarios for jointly staffed fire stations from East Fork to south of Bellevue.

Elected officials would have to work out many details if the advice is followed.

The top two consolidation scenarios called for decommissioning Bellevue's downtown fire station in favor of a jointly staffed station at the Wood River Fire & Rescue station south of town.

One issue facing Bellevue is how to provide fire-fighting coverage for Strahorn Canyon, a 150-home development on 100 acres of recently annexed land east of town that could be built out in years to come.

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"The developer will not pay for a fire station for Strahorn," City Administrator Tom Blanchard said.

Another challenge facing Bellevue is a dilapidated downtown fire station and two aging fire trucks, one built in 1983 and the other in 1986.

Blanchard said a levy increase passed several years ago to fund several city departments, including the Fire Department, did not provide enough money to fund long-term capital improvement projects, due to the recession.

"We spent into our savings," Blanchard said.

The city estimated in 2006 that $2.5 million could provide enough infrastructure and equipment for Bellevue to provide fire-fighting services to the entire city, but the council balked last week at the idea of raising taxes to make that happen.

"We're doing better than what the consultants think we should be doing," Beaver said in an interview.

He said his department responds within 6.6 minutes to 90 percent of emergency calls.

Beaver said he would provide a response-time standard to the City Council soon, between six and nine minutes, from the time a truck leaves the station to when it arrives at an emergency. He said he would also provide standards for distances from the city limits to the nearest fire station, probably from 1.5 to 2 miles.

"I'm going to give them some choices," he said. "It's their decision what they want to do with them."

Tony Evans: tevans@mtexpress.com




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