The Hailey City Council voted unanimously Monday to approve two recommendations put forward by a joint fire board established to oversee consolidation efforts bet-ween the Hailey Fire Department and Wood River Fire & Rescue.
The changes would amend a joint powers agreement between the two fire departments to include two additional voting members from the Blaine County Ambulance District on the joint powers board, and adopt a new organizational chart that would establish one fire chief to lead both fire departments.
The recommendations will now go to the Ambulance District board and the Wood River Fire Protection District board for approval, before returning to the joint fire board for a final vote on the measures.
Some stakeholders believe the measures are inadequate because they fall short of outright consolidation.
City Attorney Chris Simms said the inclusion of the Ambulance District on the joint fire board as a new funding partner makes sense because a majority of emergency calls come from Hailey due to the population density in that town.
Blaine County Commissioner Jacob Greenberg, a potential Ambulance District representative to the joint fire board, spoke against the idea, saying “true consolidation” was preferable to the city’s stated goal of taking “baby steps” toward consolidation, which would now involve three agencies and three taxing districts.
“These baby steps may get you to a grownup who doesn’t want to change,” Greenberg said.
Wood River Fire & Rescue Chief Bart Lassman said in an interview that his department contracts with the Ambulance District.
“They have been and should be a partner on the board because Wood River gets over a million dollars each year to pay for salaries, benefits, operations and supplies out of that contracted amount,” Lassman said.
Lassman supported Greenberg’s comments, saying a majority of the Wood River Fire District commissioners want the Hailey Fire Department to eventually annex into the district and be represented on a new Fire District board.
“This would take the Hailey City Council out of the fire business,” he said.
Greenberg said he believed the city’s reluctance to pursue outright consolidation stems from a suspicion that some firefighters might provide more support to a neighborhood outside of Hailey during a major fire event.
“I dare say that would not happen,” Greenberg said.
Simms disagreed with Greenberg’s position, saying it would be preferable for the city to continue a “slow and steady march” toward consolidation.
“It’s important that the Ambulance District is marching together with us,” Simms said.
The proposed organizational chart, also approved Monday, would use a combined fire chief position, replacing a chief/assistant-chief structure. Three divisions under one department would consist of deputy chiefs in charge of operations, fire marshal duties and training. The new chart allows the addition of a new training division chief position.
“This would realign staffing positions where they will be more effective,” Hailey Fire Chef Craig Aberbach said.
Lassman said the new organizational chart is a “positive move” but it would only be used “down the road,” and not necessarily upon his retirement in October.
“This is all just conceptual,” he said. “When it comes down to funding, we want to see the funding of salaries for our full-time staff to be addressed, not just these administrative positions.”
City Administrator Heather Dawson said the new administrative structure would be “net-zero,” adding no additional costs for the city.