Fire districts 3, 5 & 13 sign consolidation agreement
By Meg Olson
commissioners from fire district 13 and two other fire districts
have signed an agreement creating a unified fire and rescue
service for northern Whatcom County. North Whatcom Fire
and Rescue Services (NWFRS) will be an umbrella organization
running administration, planning, training and operations
for district 13, covering Blaine, Birch Bay and surrounding
areas, district three, covering the area around Lynden,
and district five, Point Roberts.
Im very excited, said fire district 13 chief David England following the June 26 signing of the interlocal agreement, which binds the three districts together for a three-year trial period. Im convinced were going to be able to deliver a level of service thats only been dreamed of. Its a functional consolidation in that were putting our administration and operations together while maintaining the integrity of our boards.
England, who initially proposed the consolidation, said it would prevent duplication. Now we have three fire chiefs and 95 percent of our productivity stayed within our district, despite trying to network together, he said. What this does is put three fire chiefs together to achieve the same kinds of things more efficiently by specializing in different areas.
A six-member board made up of two commissioners from each district will steer the new organization. Bill Salter and Butch Hinchey will represent district 13. The NWFRS board will meet monthly and all decisions require a majority to pass and the support of at least one representative from each district.
During the next six months, the board will review organizational charts, funding plans, budgets, equipment and facilities plans, and volunteer management and staffing plans, developed jointly by Point Roberts fire chief Mike Campbell, district 3 acting chief Bob Hamstra and England. Everything will remain in place as far as where people are located except that chief Campbell will come and reside in this office with me, England said. We cant do it all over the phone.
After the initial planning period, Campbell is likely to become assistant chief of operations for the new entity, while England remains chief, in charge of budgeting and administration. There may also be an assistant chief in charge of training position created. England said, by consolidating the expertise of senior officers, all three districts will have more resources free to man stations and equipment. One of our primary objectives is more firefighters in the fire station. We want to utilize our resources more efficiently. Ultimately we would like to organize volunteers who are interested on a shift schedule with career firefighters, putting volunteers in each station 24/7.
England added Campbell, who has established the states first intermediate life support emergency response system in Point Roberts, was key to developing an independent emergency medical service.
Medical response is becoming even more important. All our strategic plans point us in that direction, England said. This joining forces positions us well for the future if there is going to be self sufficiency for the north county. The board of fire district 13 will continue to meet monthly during the transition phase to tackle issues such as a fire station bond in Blaine and possible annexation, England said.
Blaine city council will decide on July 16 whether to ask votersduring the September 18 primary election to approve a new $1.6 million bond for construction of a new fire station. The bond would cost property owners approximately 25 cents per 1,000 dollars assessed valuation, according to city finance manger Meredith Riley, which is similar to what is already being paid for the bond approved in 1993 for the construction of the community center on H Street. Our last year for that levy and for the bond payment is 2002, Riley said, which would mean property owners would not see an increase in the tax they are now paying if the new bond were adopted.
England said district 13, which already provides fire services to Blaine under an interlocal agreement, had agreed to purchase the land for the new fire station, based on current and future benefit to the rest of the fire district from the new facility. If NWFRS were to be headquartered in the new facility, other partners in the agreement would also pitch in for construction. Blaine will build the basic structure but the partners will contribute to any additions, he said.
If the fire station bond is approved, Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic said annexation of the city of Blaine into fire district 13 could go before voters next, at the November general election.