Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Fire chiefs push for consolidation

Ketchum, Sun Valley, Wood River chiefs hatch plan


By BRENNAN REGO
Express Staff Writer

The face of fire-fighting in the north valley might soon change. Ketchum Fire Chief Mike Elle, Sun Valley Acting Fire Chief Ray Franco and Wood River Fire & Rescue Fire Chief Bart Lassman recently expressed full support for countywide consolidation of emergency services—and they’re not just blowing smoke.

“Chief Franco and I are working very closely together to come up with a plan to develop consolidation or an agreement to enable our agencies to essentially become one,” Elle said. “This is to provide the same level of service through common training, firefighter safety and safe equipment.”

Franco said he supports countywide consolidation of fire protection services, but declined to comment further. Elle also said the Ketchum Fire Department and Wood River Fire & Rescue—which provides fire protection services to the mid and south valley—are currently “well on their way to becoming consolidated.” He said he is working with Lassman to make that happen.

“It’s something that we’ve promoted and tried to push to all the cities and fire districts for years,” Lassman said. “But we haven’t had much success as of yet.”

He said the three chiefs are now taking matters into their own hands.

“We’re doing a lot of legwork in-house trying to take baby steps to move the departments in the same direction,” he said. “In the past we’ve tried to speak directly to the elected officials or have tried to have elected officials talk to other elected officials, but it hasn’t gone anywhere. The chiefs are not afraid of consolidation.”

Lassman said the politicians will be involved “down the road” once an overall plan has been established. He said that plan might include setting up a “new fire authority” with a new board.

“There is a general plan,” he said. “A lot of this is a timing issue. As the chiefs have more meetings together, we’ll become more and more on the same page, then we’ll all present the plan to our own respective authorities. Ketchum, Sun Valley and us are really trying to move forward with something.”

Lassman said the plan is still in its infancy and in the immediate future does not involve Hailey’s and Bellevue’s fire departments. However, he said if the chiefs’ efforts are successful in consolidating service in the north and mid valley, their long-term goal would be to unite the entire county.

“Right now it’s really in a planning stage, but we think it’s about time,” he said.

Elle, Franco and Lassman all said the first step is to coordinate and increase firefighter training among the three organizations so crews from one can flawlessly operate equipment from one of the others.

“It would provide an incredible level of service to know that these people know how to operate all the equipment in the area,” Elle said.

Elle said that ultimately, a fully consolidated organization would provide cheaper, better and more consistent emergency services. A 2007 study of Ketchum and Sun Valley’s fire departments and a 2011 study of Wood River Fire & Rescue and the Bellevue and Hailey fire departments reached the same conclusion.

“I’m not trying to build an empire here,” Elle said. “I’m just tired of the turf wars between jurisdictions.”

Brennan Rego: brego@mtexpress.com




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