News

City, fire district dispute lingers

By Kevin Hanson-The Courier-Herald

A simmering dispute between the city of Enumclaw and Fire District 28 commissioners didn't improve when talks recently turned to the need to hire a new chief.

The two sides have been at odds for some time, grappling over the emotional issues of money and power. Relations apparently were further strained when it came time to select an interim chief, a move made necessary when longtime chief Joe Kolisch retired in late February.

For years, local fire and emergency medical efforts have operated under the joint banner of Enumclaw/District 28. The city and the rural King County Fire Protection District 28 contribute equally to the department, which is headquartered in town and includes two outlying stations.

Late last summer, District 28 commissioners again expressed their displeasure at the way things operate. The basic claim was that despite contributing half the money, the district doesn't share in the decision-making process. The district simply writes a check each month and the city runs the operation.

In August, the two sides agreed to fund a feasibility study that would examine the current situation and eventually provide options for different ways of doing business. The study is being conducted by the Oregon-based Emergency Services Consultants Inc. to the tune of about $30,000 and should be wrapped up by summer.

Meanwhile, emotions flared again in March when it came time to pick a temporary replacement for Kolisch. Selecting a permanent chief will await completion of the ESCI study.

Enumclaw Mayor John Wise said the city interviewed several candidates and found none to be a good match for the job. The city then looked to Buckley, asking if its chief, Alan Predmore, could be hired on an interim basis to also oversee the Enumclaw operation. Buckley officials agreed, but District 28 chiefs balked at the idea.

Wise has stated his position clearly - that the city is responsible for all decisions, while the district simply contracts for services.

That position doesn't sit well with District 28 commissioners. The two sides met in special session March 19 and, according to a draft version of the minutes, commissioners twice asked why they were not part of the selection process.

Talks reached the point where one commissioner, Chris Ingham, offered a motion that the board send a letter to neighboring Fire District 44, asking that consolidation talks be initiated. The draft minutes note that commissioner Ryan Terhune agreed, “but felt that the Board should table the motion until cooler heads prevail.”

City officials met again three nights later with district commissioners Ingham and David Hannity. While the draft minutes of that session note that “Commissioners discussed the lack of communication between the City and the District,” the mood appeared a bit more conciliatory.

“The attorneys for the City and the District will work on negotiating a future contract,” the draft minutes state. “At no time have we negotiated to leave the operation that we have right now.”

Addressing the void at the top of the operation, the city has turned to Police Chief Jim Zoll who will, for the interim, be in charge of both departments.

Kevin Hanson can be reached at khanson@courierherald.com.

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