A great deal of public attention of late in Ketchum has been focused on affordable housing. But the real and urgent issue is fire and public safety; failure to solve that will cause every homeowner and renter to pay more for insurance on their property soon if unresolved.
To understand this problem, one must understand the firefighting entities that coexist—the Ketchum Fire Department, Sun Valley Fire Department and Ketchum Rural Fire Protection District. Most of the towns locally (and the surrounding rural areas) are too small to efficiently provide public safety services alone. So, they have long done what makes sense: cooperated to achieve scale.
Ketchum is the larger town. But it lacks a large fire station and owns only two trucks that will fit in the one that it has: one that is 15 years old and one that is 30 (and only partially operational).
For years, that constraint has been solved by cooperation and contracts. Ketchum has the contract to run the Ketchum Rural Fire District, which has two newer stations, and more modern equipment—one near Hulen Meadows and the other at Greenhorn Gulch. (Those facilities also provide firefighter housing.) Finally, Ketchum has rented the services of a half-time fire chief from Sun Valley, which itself has two newer stations and equipment.
By all accounts, the firefighters, paramedics and EMTs work together with great ease and professionalism. That is to be commended; anyone who has ever needed to integrate two organizations knows how hard that is to accomplish.
But there is trouble in Dodge City. Over the past few months, discussions have been held on what was described as “consolidation” of the Ketchum and Sun Valley fire departments. Unfortunately, it became clear to all—only at the 11th hour—that this was not a consolidation, but an elimination of KFD in favor of a contract for Sun Valley to provide Ketchum fire coverage. Ketchum employees would have been free to seek jobs with Sun Valley, but would likely have lost seniority. (In addition, KFD is union, and Sun Valley will not accept a collective bargaining arrangement.)
When that was discovered, it all fell apart. The next day Sun Valley canceled its contract to provide Ketchum’s chief, and the Ketchum Rural Fire District has put out a request for proposals asking Sun Valley to bid on taking over its operations. If those proposals happen, Ketchum will be left with too many staff and a small, antiquated fire department with little (and old) equipment.
All fire departments get an independent ISO (Insurance Services Office) score. That determines insurance rates for homeowners. Right now, Ketchum has a score of 3, partly because it gets “credit” for the stations it operates for the Ketchum Rural Fire District (a low number is good). But if the current problem is not solved, that could rise to an 8, as Ketchum will “lose” credit for the Rural Fire District stations and trucks. If it does, we will all see our insurance premiums rise. In essence, it will be a tax increase on everyone in Ketchum who has insurance. This is an urgent problem that needs all hands on deck in the Ketchum city government.
How did we get here? The problem is that the Ketchum city administration has a number of pet projects. Affordable housing, for one, has absorbed huge amounts of time and effort (with little to show for it). But that is an important and long-term problem, not an urgent one. The fire issue is urgent. And right now, the city of Ketchum needs to prioritize, and fry the bigger and more urgent fish in front of it—before we all end up paying much higher insurance rates.
Lee Kranefuss lives in Ketchum.