Friday, March 4, 2011

Fire consolidation committee formed

Cities await cost analysis


By TONY EVANS
Express Staff Writer

It's been a month since completion of a $48,000 Cooperative Efforts Feasibility Study that recommended five major scenarios, and many minor options, for fire department consolidation among Hailey, Bellevue and Wood River Fire & Rescue. Now it is up to elected officials, city staffers and perhaps voters to decide which recommendations, if any, to follow.

"We're not interested in choosing a particular scenario from the study now, but in moving ahead as a group," said James Frehling, Wood River Fire & Rescue fire commissioner. "We're going to support the study and the next two steps, which are to consult with our service partners and try to adopt a joint regional fire-protection vision, and organize a steering committee with elected representatives to do so."

The steering committee will be made up of Frehling and Jay Bailet from the Wood River Fire Protection District, Mayor Rick Davis and City Clerk Heather Dawson from Hailey, and Councilman Larry Plott and Pat Rainey from Bellevue. Frehling said a cost analysis of the study that he received on Feb. 22 indicates that $319,000 could be saved during the first year of consolidation, but that doesn't include expenses for new fire stations or fire-fighting equipment.

Bellevue has a dilapidated fire station and trucks that need to be replaced, but the City Council is evaluating the Fire Department's overall performance as it considers consolidation options that could raise taxes for Bellevue residents.

"There are not many fires and we are responding pretty well to them," Plott said.

Bellevue Fire Chief Greg Beaver advised city officials last week to maintain a maximum distance of 1.5 to 2 miles between the city's fire stations and city limits, with acceptable response times from six to nine minutes.

Beaver said the Fire Department's response times in 2010 were lower than that criterion, with four people responding on average within 4:39 minutes.

Beaver recommended that the city build a new fire station between Pine and Spruce streets, and possibly consolidate with Hailey and Wood River Fire & Rescue at some point in the future. Bellevue Council Chair Dave Hattula and Hailey Mayor Rick Davis said no decisions will be made on recommendations until officials can respond to consultants' cost analyses, perhaps by March 14.

"Until we get the hard numbers, it's still speculative how much this could cost," Hattula said.

He said the Bellevue City Council should explore grant opportunities, presented by Region lV Development planner Jeffrey McCurdy last week, that could be used to fund a new fire station.

A decision on whether to consolidate would be up to Bellevue residents.

"The governing body of Bellevue would put this up for a vote," Hattula said.

Tony Evans: tevans@mtexpress.com




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