Friday, November 30, 2012

Ketchum proposes fire contract

City leaders say department could also serve Sun Valley

Express Staff Writer

Ketchum officials have expressed concern with the mutual-aid agreement between Ketchum and Sun Valley’s fire departments and are suggesting that Sun Valley enter into a contract with Ketchum to provide fire protection services to the north valley.

“The city of Ketchum and its taxpayers are massively subsidizing the Sun Valley Fire Department,” Ketchum City Councilman Baird Gourlay said at a council meeting Monday, Nov. 19.

In an interview this week, Gourlay said the “reality” is that Sun Valley’s department does not employ enough full-time firefighters to fight a fire.

“We’re the first ones to put water on their fires,” he said.

Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall agrees. In an interview, he said there’s “no question” that Ketchum’s Fire Department can respond much more quickly to an emergency than can Sun Valley’s because it employs a full-time department with several firefighters always stationed at the fire station in Ketchum ready to go 24 hours a day. In comparison, Hall said, Sun Valley’s department, though it employs a handful of full-time firefighters, does not always have a full crew on duty.

But Sun Valley Councilman Nils Ribi disagrees. He said Sun Valley firefighters respond to more calls in Ketchum than do Ketchum firefighters in Sun Valley.

“Sun Valley is subsidizing the Ketchum Fire Department,” he said.

Hall said the issue isn’t about how many calls each department responds to outside of its city limits. He said the real issue revolves around how much Ketchum pays to continuously keep a crew at the ready.

Both Gourlay and Hall said they would be open to exploring the possibility of entering into a contract for services with Sun Valley for fire protection, much like Ketchum did with the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office in 2009 for law enforcement. Ketchum now pays the Sheriff’s Office to man its police vehicles and enforce the law. Hall said that arrangement has saved Ketchum money while lowering crime. In the Ketchum/Sun Valley scenario, Sun Valley would pay Ketchum for fire protection services.

“The objective is to make the services better for both cities and save both cities money,” Gourlay said.

Sun Valley Mayor DeWayne Briscoe said the Sun Valley Fire Department is “adequately staffed in numbers and quality of leadership positions” and he would rather keep the departments separate.

“But I’m open to exploring any option that is proven to be financially beneficial to Sun Valley without compromising health, safety and welfare,” he said. 

After the Nov. 19 Ketchum meeting, Gourlay sent the Sun Valley City Council an email suggesting that the two cities conduct an “updated, unbiased assessment” of their mutual-aid agreement for both fire and police services. A similar study was conducted in 2007 by Illinois-based McGrath Consulting Group. That study recommended “full consolidation” of the cities’ fire departments, as opposed to “operational consolidation” (a contract for services).

The Sun Valley City Council is expected to discuss the issue on Dec. 6.

Brennan Rego:

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