Mark Donnell officially named Chelan 7’s Fire Chief

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by Richard Uhlhorn

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Mark Donnell was officially named the new Fire Chief of Chelan County Fire District #7 at last Wednesday’s commission meeting.

Chelan County Fire District #7 commissioners officially named Mark Donnell as Chelan 7’s new fire chief at the end of its meeting on Wednesday, August 21.

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Fire Chief Tim Lemon resigned as of the end of July to take on a new Chief’s position at the North Whidbey Island Fire District. He had planned on retiring at the end of the year.

Former Fire Chief Tim Lemon was retiring at the end of the year, but ended up accepting a position as Fire Chief of the North Whidbey Island Fire District five months before his planned retirement. Deputy Chief Mark Donnell was named acting chief at that time.

Donnell gave his first Fire Chief Report at the Wednesday meeting and told the Commissioners and those in attendance the District that “so far we have had a nice and slow fire season. I’m thankful for that.”

He also reported that the District heard from the County Assessor about a new tax rate that will cost the District $15,737.00. “We will be able to recoup that money in 2020,” said Donnell.

So far the District’s call volume is down. Chelan 7 has responded to 117 calls so far this year. “It has been a slow summer,” remarked Donnell. “I would like to remind everyone that our fire season is not over yet and it might run into October.”

Turnout response time is currently running around nine minutes and slightly longer in the rural and urban areas. Donnell was surprised to see that Monday’s were the busiest days for the District while Friday was the slowest.

Donnell reported that he had just returned from the National Fire Academy and learned a lot. “There were 16 new fire chiefs and they were all saying the same thing… staffing is a problem.” Discussions centered around how to overcome that issue. “The group is trying to come up with solutions.”

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Assistant Fire Chief Brandon Asher reported on volunteers and training.

Assistant Chief Brandon Asher reported that volunteers continue to trickle in. There was one applicant for Chelan, one for Orondo and a new EMT in Entiat. Commissioner Phil Moller asked if there was anything Asher can do to keep volunteers signing up. “We are doing that now, but everyone is slowing up. It’s been good. So far it’s a good group.”

On the retention side, Asher said they have lost two volunteers. “One doesn’t have the time and the other is moving.” He also said the District is having difficulty getting volunteers in on the weekends. During the summer he was at 38 percent coverage on weekends, but expects that to rise to 52 percent in September and 53 percent in October.

Asher said that between the three districts he is attracting 20 new volunteers per year. “The most difficult is Orondo,” said Asher. “They are spread out and have now real community. It’s the most challenging.” However, he stated that the warehouse are willing to let volunteers leave work to respond to events.

Chief Donnell stated that it costs an estimated $7,700 to train a volunteer when considering physical examinations and time expended.

Asher said that several volunteers will be joining Fire District 1 in Wenatchee for “Rope Rescue” training.

There is also some Hazmat training that will give confidence to the volunteers to safely rescue people from dangerous situations.

Chief Donnell said that the Annexation process is still moving forward and that it should be completed by January 1. Annexation into the District should help homeowners insurance rates, but Donnell stated that not all insurance companies subscribe to these processes. Donnell stated that a reduction in insurance rates depends on having volunteers at stations near the annexed property. The age of the District’s apparatus also plays into the ratings as does water supply.

There was discussion at an earlier meeting regarding billing for services at illegal fires. An illegal fire is defined as a fire illegally started during a burn ban, the burning of material other than natural vegetation and burning without a permit.

Chief Donnell said he had brought up this idea with other Districts who stated they do not bill for illegal burns, but let the Sheriff’s Department and Department of Ecology deal with these issues.

“Do we want to continue moving forward with billing for illegal burns,” asked Donnell?

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Fire Commissioner Jay Witherbee questioned the idea of the District billing for illegal burns unless the entire County follows this practice.

Commissioner Jay Witherbee replied, “I would not feel comfortable being the only district to charge for illegal burns.” Donnell said he would follow up with the other districts and the County Fire Marshall.

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Fire Commission Chairman Russ Jones is concerned about the District absorbing the costs of illegal burns that could cost the District $1000’s of dollars in apparatus and response time.

Chairman Russ Jones remarked that the Sheriff will cite an illegal burn with a $200 ticket, but the Fire District response might cost the District $10,000 to $20,000. The Department of Natural Resources has billed $5,000 for a burn that got away. “I would like you to take it back to North Central Washington Districts even though we have not had a significant problem (with illegal burns).

Jones also brought up the need for another Town Hall meeting to let the community know what the District plans on going forward with a new Levy in 2020.

Fire Association Report:

Dan Crandall gave a Firefighters Association report. He said the beginning bank balance was $17,428 and the ending balance of the group was up to $17,735.

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Chelan Fire and Rescue was on hand at the Windermere SUP Cup this past month to make sure the paddle boarders were safe on water. 

The Association also helped the Windermere SUP Cup event by putting the rescue boat on the water. Jim Dalton and Judy Johnson ran the boat during the event and according to Crandall, it worked great. “They picked up one tired swimmer,” said Crandall. “It went off very well for the Fire Department.”

The Association made a $500.00 donation to Mark Tesch and his wife after their new Twisp home burned. Crandall also noted that the Back to School Fair was a great success and the association plans on supporting the Manson Swim event on September 7 by donating $500.

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