Friday, December 14, 2012

County, cities say vehicle policies are strict

Fire chiefs say volunteers respond in personal vehicles


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Recent investigations at the city of Sun Valley revealed, among other things, an employee’s personal use of a city-owned vehicle. Department heads at other Wood River Valley government entities said their policies do not allow such use.

Wood River Fire & Rescue chief Bart Lassman and Ketchum Fire Chief Mike Elle said emergency responders do not use publicly owned vehicles for personal use—with certain specific exceptions.

Lassman and Elle said that typically, paid-on-call volunteers respond to fire calls by driving to the station in personal vehicles. All emergency medical technicians can drive personally owned vehicles to the scene of a medical call—unless it’s a car accident—and EMTs carry bags in their cars with basic medical equipment.

Lassman said Wood River Fire & Rescue owns three vehicles for employee use: one 2005 Chevy Suburban that Lassman uses to respond to calls from home and drive to and from work; one 2002 Chevy Silverado pickup truck used for the same purposes by Assistant Chief Jeff Nevins; and a TSU, or tactical support unit, that can be used by staff and volunteers.

“The Fire District has a policy that says that the Fire District-owned vehicles shall not be used for private purposes,” he said. “They are for Fire District business.”

Lassman said the TSU is used to respond to emergencies and also used by employees who may have to travel to Fire District-related meetings.

“If they’re traveling for Fire District business, it’s nice for them to be able to use that vehicle and show that they’re representing our department,” he said.

Elle said the reason that fire chiefs are issued vehicles is because they often respond to calls from home, and these vehicles double as quick-response vehicles carrying medical equipment when ambulances are tied up with other calls. He said he responds to accidents on state Highway 75 on a regular basis.

“From where I live, I’m always the first on scene,” he said. “Every time there’s a wreck on the highway and I’m at home, I respond from home.”

He said Ketchum Fire Department Assistant Chief Robbie Englehart responds in his emergency vehicle to ambulance calls in Hailey, near his home.

Vehicle policies are similar for employees of Blaine County and the cities of Ketchum and Hailey. Blaine County Clerk JoLynn Drage said the county owns 117 “specialized-use” vehicles such as those used by the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office, the Blaine County Road and Bridge Department, the Ambulance District and other departments.

Drage said the county owns 13 other vehicles for “general use,” six assigned to the Assessor’s Office, three to Blaine County Land Use and Building Services and one to Blaine County Operations, which conducts site visits and oversees road improvements and projects.

“I’m not going to drive a cop car home,” she said, adding that the only personnel who drive county vehicles home are patrol deputies from the Sheriff’s Office, including the sheriff.

“Patrol deputies take their vehicles home because they are on call,” she said. “They might go home and an hour later have to get called out on an accident.”

Administrative vehicles are used only for county business, Drage said, such as conducting site visits for land use applications, county-related business travel and elections work.

“Our policy is, you use a county vehicle for county business only,” she said. “[Administrators] make you justify it—they ask you when you’ll be back and what you’re using it for. If [staff] goes to a meeting in Twin Falls, they can stop somewhere, but they can’t take a personal trip.”

Drage said the county also tracks mileage on administrative vehicles.

Ketchum City Administrator Gary Marks said that apart from the emergency response vehicles, employees from the Streets and Utilities departments switch off taking administrative vehicles home each night and remaining “on call.”

“Those go home each night with someone, so if we get a call, we don’t have to waste time transferring vehicles,” he said.

Marks added that department heads are in charge of ensuring that city vehicles are accounted for and not used for personal business.

Hailey City Administrator Heather Dawson said that at the city, there are only eight employees apart from law enforcement who can use city administrative vehicles. However, she said, those vehicles are not allowed off city property at night.

“All of our vehicles are parked every night at City Hall and used during the day for city business only,” she said.

She said major business trips out of the area must be pre-approved by her.

Kate Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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