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Impressed with district fire chief, commissioners
Normally I do not get involved with local politics, but the numerous articles, letters and comments appearing in The Courier-Herald led me to wonder what was going on with our fire district. So it was that I attended the first public meeting recently held at the fire station. I was very impressed with the fire chief and the two commissioners that were in attendance. They are obviously committed to improving the service levels in the fire district and correcting existing deficiencies. However, it is also evident that they intend to do so in a measured and responsible manner. They do not appear to be a bunch of tax-and-spend, out-of-control managers, as I was led to believe by the public comments I have read.
I was surprised to find that the entire meeting was dominated by two disgruntled local residents both of whom had an agenda. It became very apparent that they objected to any expenditure of any kind, and any expenditure for service outside of the city limits was met with hostility.
The cost of upgrading the Cumberland station is a prime example. Response time to the Cumberland area is just too high. From Enumclaw, response times can be 20 minutes or more. This led the fire district to increase staffing at the Cumberland station and to make the necessary facility improvements to accommodate the increased personnel. Yet this expense was strongly objected to. The perceived problem it seems is the fact that the fire station is now one of the more expensive properties in the Cumberland area. That may be true. So what? Are we to believe that the cost of a fire station should not exceed the average value of the properties it is built to protect? Are the lives and safety of the residents in the Cumberland area to be measured by the value of the property they own?
It was argued during the meeting that there has been no local population growth. So, there should be no spending increases either. That would be true if the district was providing adequate service for the entire district and if no major assets needed to be replaced. However, neither condition is completely true.
In 2008 an independent review was made of the local fire service. The resulting report is referred to as the Fire Protection Master Plan. This report clearly shows that while service in the city itself is very good, the service to the unincorporated areas of the fire district is below standard.
It was interesting to learn that just a little under half of our population lives outside of the city limits. They all pay taxes to the fire district and deserve the same level of service as the people living in town. Historically this has not been a priority. The Master Plan underscores this long-standing issue. The fire chief and the commissioners seem committed to correcting the problem.
The report also showed that a surprising number of fire vehicles are scheduled for replacement. The report showed that seven of the 15 pieces of equipment listed should be replaced prior to 2014.
Clearly, additional expenses are going to be incurred by the district, not because of growth, but to correct known problems and to handle normal wear and tear.
While everyone present claimed to love firefighters I seriously doubt that any firefighter was feeling the love. Negative comments were made about the cost of full-time firefighters. Apparently the compensation was thought to be too high for people that may not have college degrees. It seems that years of specialized training and the high level of responsibility the job requires was not recognized as valuable. There are many professions that do not require college, but do nevertheless require a high level of training and are compensated accordingly. I submit that firefighting is one such profession and I found disparaging side comments to the contrary to be inappropriate and objectionable.
Complaints against the fire district’s plans took on an unfortunately personal nature. Some would have us believe that there is a conspiracy of fire professionals organized just to increase costs. Personally, I found it reassuring to know that the commissioners have notable experience in the field and can serve as a realistic check and aid for the fire chief.
In closing I found that the plans being made by the fire district are reasonable. The explanations provided for the expense levels make sense when listened to objectively and when considering the needs of the entire district and not just city residents.