North Whatcom Fire & Rescue appoints commissioner

Published on Wed, Jan 6, 2010 by Jack Kintner

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North Whatcom Fire & Rescue (NWFR) enters the new year with a new budget and commissioner. Larry McPhail, 69, was appointed December 3 to replace retired commissioner Butch Hinchey.

McPhail has lived in the district over 40 years, and said he was motivated to serve out of a sense of giving back to the community.

“I’ve always been interested in that kind of work,” McPhail said, adding that his son Burr is a paid firefighter for NWFR. McPhail attended Lynden schools and graduated from Skagit Valley College before entering the Army and serving in Korea in 1965 and 1966.

He served with the Border Patrol for a few years before moving to U.S. Customs, now U.S. Customs and Border Protection, in 1970. He retired in 1996.

McPhail also serves on the city of Lynden’s Berthusen Park advisory committee. He is involved with antique cars and steam tractors and narrates the annual steam show each August at Berthusen Park.

The 2010 NWFR budget projects $5,541,269 in expenditures, representing a 4 percent increase over 2009. The commissioners also voted to raise their funding levy one percent as allowed by state law. The increase, to $1.35, is about two cents per $1,000 of evaluation, or about $6 dollars on a $300,000 house.

Raising the levy this year required a bit of maneuvering. The fire district is allowed to raise the funding levy by the lower of either a one percent raise or by a factor based on a consumer price index the state calls the implicit price inflator. But this year the price inflator is actually a price deflator since it was negative in the applicable year (2009).

Because of that the department was allowed to raise its levy rate by demonstrating substantial need to do so.
NWFR chief Tom Fields said that the fire department’s need for new equipment and increased personnel costs constitute such a need and mandated a levy increase. Health care costs alone rose 22 percent, he said, over last year.

Providing adequate coverage for the 147-square mile fire protection district that includes Blaine, Birch Bay and rural Lynden meant purchasing four new engines at $2.1 million.

This will replace aging equipment, Fields said, and will help to lower insurance costs because older equipment results in poorer insurance ratings.

“Our ladder truck is so old it doesn’t qualify our district for rate reductions. It needs replacing in any case,” Fields said.

Instead of going to voters with a bond for the new engines, the commissioners chose to finance them for 10 years at 3.17 percent with the state of Washington’s local option capital asset lending (LOCAL) program.

The new ladder truck and one new engine, manufactured by Crimson in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, are expected to arrive in a few weeks, with the third and fourth engines due later in the spring.