Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Bellevue opts out of fire department consolidation

Hailey Fire and Wood River Fire & Rescue consider collaborative efforts


By TONY EVANS
Express Staff Writer

The city of Bellevue has chosen to opt out of an ongoing fire department cooperative feasibility study begun last year to explore consolidation possibilities between south-valley fire departments to save money and improve services.

The city will pursue grants to enhance its own fire department and perhaps build a new fire station. The city also is considering collaborative efforts with Hailey and Wood River Fire & Rescue fire agencies, without consolidating with them.

During a City Council meeting Thursday, Councilman Larry Plott on said the city's less-than-affluent financial circumstances could put it in a better place in line to get grants.

"Being poor keeps us eligible for grants," he said. "One day we may have more to offer [under consolidation]."

The feasibility study, conducted by Emergency Services Consulting International at a cost of $48,000, recommended that the Bellevue and Hailey fire departments consolidate into the Wood River Fire Rescue agency.

The study reported that consolidation would save Hailey and Wood River money at the outset, but would have cost the city of Bellevue.

The study produced 43 recommendations for collaboration that would not require consolidation. Some have already been implemented.

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For example, Wood River Fire & Rescue Chief Bart Lassman said his department has implemented a respiratory protection plan to standardize and document the use and care of breathing air tanks and respirators for firefighters and other emergency response personnel.

"We could share this with Hailey," Lassman said.

Lassman said the Wood River Fire & Rescue board will discuss the 43 recommendations for collaboration at an Aug. 10 meeting and would meet with Hailey if directed to act on any of those recommendations.

"The more the departments are adopting the same standards, the more they could lead to greater strategies for cooperative efforts," he said.

The Hailey City Council called for an enhanced financial analysis of the feasibility study's conclusions, with possible tax impacts for the city under consolidation scenarios.

Those impacts were presented last week to the city council, but no decision was made to as to whether the Hailey Fire Department would be consolidated with Wood River Fire and Rescue.

Councilman Don Keirn advised Hailey Fire Chief Mike Chapman to continue working on the 43 collaborative recommendations provided by the consultants, which he described as "low-hanging fruit" and therefore relatively easy to implement.

"The low-hanging fruit is not so low-hanging anymore," Keirn said, indicating that the easier changes already have been made.

"That's OK," Chapman said. "We have ladders.

Tony Evans: tevans@mtexpress.com




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