One advantage to tearing it all down is being able to start anew.
That was the sort of process that the Ketchum Rural Fire Protection District commissioners intended to begin during a meeting Wednesday afternoon at the Elkhorn Fire Station in Sun Valley, where they laid out some tentative proposals and principles they hoped would be the basis for consolidating fire and emergency medical services agencies in the northern Wood River Valley.
The commissioners, Ketchum interim Fire Chief Tom Bowman, Assistant Fire Chief Tom Ancona, Sun Valley Public Safety Director Walt Femling and Fire Chief Taan Robrahn led the discussion.
The Fire District commissioners voted 2-1 to end a decades-long agreement with the city of Ketchum on May 14 and to craft a new one with the city of Sun Valley. The Sun Valley City Council approved the new contract Monday.
In the coming months, the Fire District, the Sun Valley Fire Department and the Ketchum Fire Department will begin to redraft their mutual aid agreements and their automatic aid agreements.
An automatic aid call is something that requires a response from multiple agencies because of its significant nature and complex response, such as a structure fire or a high-hazard call, Robrahn said. A mutual aid call is when one agency requests assistance from another partner or multiple partners, again due to the severity of the response, he said.
The Fire District focuses on fire protection calls, and not medical responses. The cities of Ketchum and Sun Valley respond to medical calls, and those needing a paramedic-level response will get an ambulance from the Blaine County Ambulance District. The city of Ketchum provides staffing for the Ambulance District and, until Oct. 1, for the Fire District.
Ancona said the fresh look at mutual aid and auto aid will require re-examining the departments’ response plans, which may entail setting up a temporary plan until the changeover to Sun Valley happens on Oct. 1.
Robrahn said the departments in Ketchum and Sun Valley already work seamlessly.
“On an operational level, we work together fine,” he said.
Bowman echoed that sentiment.
“Once we’re on the fire ground, there’s no tribe,” Bowman said. “At the bottom of the pyramid, we’re already consolidated. We have to get you guys consolidated.”
Femling said the departments should establish a universal pool of paid-on-call volunteers who would each be paid at the same rate.
But achieving full consolidation among Ketchum, Sun Valley and the Fire District will require sorting out who employs which full-time staff and who pays for their salaries and benefits, who pays for the equipment, materials and maintenance, how the departments’ operations and schedules would mesh, whose taxpayers shoulder which burdens and numerous other issues.
That will likely be a years-long process, the commissioners said. Fire District Commissioner Earl Engelmann said the district needs to improve its standing and leadership by hiring an assistant fire chief.
“We don’t want to rush into something and have it fall apart and not work,” Engelmann said. “It’s a process, not an event. The district has to become more of its own entity. Get away from the boundaries. Let’s redraw the map. What is going to be the most efficient way to respond to a call? What are the things that we need to do and in what order?”
The commissioners distributed a draft of their principles leading up to consolidation. Those included setting up a committee of paid-on-call volunteers, full-time staff and other interested parties to develop a proposal on consolidation. Jeff Nevins, a longtime member of Wood River Fire & Rescue, said he was working with the firefighters to develop such a proposal, which would be presented in upcoming weeks.
The commissioners want to find the optimal response times for each station on every call. They also seek to blend the two fire departments by having “all members be dual-agency members,” creating “training battalions consisting of members of both city departments,” starting an “EMS employee sharing protocol,” sharing “rural water supply testing between the two cities” and cross-training “members to be able to respond and operate on either city’s or rural apparatus.”
The final principles are retaining the job positions “for every current north valley fire service full-time employee,” and setting a target date for consolidation to occur.
“Get fire suppression away from city politics,” Commissioner Jed Gray said. “We’re basically the organization that can accomplish that.”