The commissioners of the Ketchum Rural Fire District voted 2-1 to end their longstanding relationship with the city of Ketchum and will begin a contract for services with the city of Sun Valley starting Oct. 31 if the Sun Valley City Council approves the contract on May 20.
I find the urgency of the commission to cancel the longstanding contract with Ketchum to be curious. Since I have been on the City Council, we have never said no to requests for equipment from our previous fire chief, nor until recently have we ever heard a peep from Ketchum Rural Fire on dissatisfaction with the service that the city’s firefighters have been providing or concerns with equipment. If there were concerns with either the council’s funding or the chief’s communication, I feel they should have been presented as they developed, and certainly addressed at the signing of the mutual protection agreement in November 2016.
Nonetheless, I believe it was beneficial that their concerns were brought to our attention so the city of Ketchum can resolve any deficiencies we may have and take the necessary steps forward to create an improved partnership with Ketchum Rural and ultimately consolidate all fire services in the north valley.
Without a doubt, Ketchum has the most experienced and qualified group of firefighters and EMTs, and for a majority of the commissioners to underestimate the value of these hardworking, dedicated professionals and volunteers was hard to understand. I have heard across the board, even from Sun Valley firefighters, that it would be nearly impossible for Sun Valley to provide the expertise, training and overall services that our firefighters and EMTs have been providing.
I also strongly believe that Ketchum was addressing the stated concerns of the Rural District commissioners while simultaneously creating a clear path toward unification. Those measures included committing to put out a clear and concise bond in the upcoming November election for a new Ketchum fire station, as well as purchasing new equipment and providing the land for the fire training facility, all of which have already or will in the near future enhance public safety for the entire north valley.
In my mind, the key to consolidation is for Ketchum, Ketchum Rural and Sun Valley to come together and hire a shared chief who would oversee all the departments and coordinate staffing, equipment and facilities. Building consolidation from within with a strong chief as the catalyst makes more sense to me than having the public safety director from Sun Valley (who has a law enforcement and not a fire background) try to force consolidation through. Chief Robrahn is doing a great job in Sun Valley and has earned the respect of all the firefighters I have talked with, but most don’t feel he is at a point in his career to take on this task.
I don’t see the perceived concerns with the Ketchum firefighters union and collective bargaining agreement as a major issue. Ketchum could continue to work with the union on their wages and benefits, and the union has shown willingness for compromise and to be part of the discussion on scheduling and other operational aspects of their contract. I think a solid chief would be quite capable of effectively working within the scope a collective bargaining agreement.
Had Ketchum Rural stayed with Ketchum and followed the path and strategy I listed above, there would be a rocky but clear path toward consolidation. In switching its contract from Ketchum to Sun Valley, Ketchum Rural has created a vacuum that now has to be filled.
Jim Slanetz is a member of the Ketchum City Council.