by Richard Uhlhorn
It was a somber Chelan 7 Fire Commission meeting on Wednesday, September 18 with the passing of past Fire Chief Tim Lemon. “We’ve lost somebody special to most of us,” said Commission Chair Russ Jones. Lemon passed away from a brief battle with pancreatic cancer in No. Whidbey where he had taken on a job to help their fire department.
With Commissioner Jay Witherbee resigning effective September 11, the Fire Commission is down to two with no intention to appoint another commissioner until after the November election.
Also missing from Chelan 7 was Commissioner Jay Witherbee. He resigned from the Commission on September 11. “He will no longer be attending meetings,” said Jones. “We have no interest in appointing a new commissioner until after the election.”
Two individuals are running for Witherbee’s seat; Karyl Oules, a long time Chelan resident and Bill Bassett. (Interviews coming shortly with the two candidates). Jones remarked that he and Phil Moller make a quorum and could vote on District issues.
Chief Mark Donnell
Chief Donnell reported that the second half of tax revenues have not come in yet. “We are on track to receive those.” He said.
He also reported that there were 110 calls for the month of September. “There is a higher volume than normal,” said Donnell. Most of those calls were EMS calls. However, Donnell stated that the Washington Creek Fire had a significant number of vehicles involved and that 27 apparatus’ from Orondo, Pateros, the Forest Service and the DNR responded to the call. This also included one helicopter. “We had 82 personnel on the fire and it was the smoothest fire we’ve ever been on.”
Callouts are still lagging behind, but Donnell expects the District will still hit the 900 level by the end of the year.
Donnell said the goal is to have staff out of bed, down the stairs, into their fire clothes and out the door in two minutes. Emergency 71 is currently responding in 2:14 minutes.
Assistant Chief Brandon Asher reported that Orondo has one new resident firefighter and that no members were lost so far in September. “We are evaluating participation with our investment. We had a good showing last night during our drill.”
Stipend coverage is beginning to dwindle added Asher. The District is at 36% coverage. Donnell reported that the District cannot exceed 20% of the career firefighters on stipend payments. “We have a serious problem with our Stipend program,” he said. He suggested that the District could look at eliminating the Stipend program and actually hiring two more full time career firefighters to fill the gap. However, Donnell also said that wasn’t sustainable going forward.
Dan Crandall reported that the Firefighter Association began the month with $17,735.00 and ended with $16,983.00.
The big concern for the Department is retention of volunteer firefighters. The investment in each individual is huge because of rules and regulations. The District is considering changing from calling Volunteers volunteers to firefighters.
Chief Donnell reported that there were five general goals for the District. They include:
- Community relations
- Staff retention
- Future funding
- Measurable goals
Turnout to two minutes
An effective workforce
Fire loss vs. pre-fire valuation
Maintaining clean annual audits
Donnell said that the District would like to retain a four month reserve fund to get the District to April when the first tax revenues come in. “We had a big fat zero this year on State Mobilization,” said Donnell. Typically, State mobilizations bring in additional cash to the District.
Fire Chief Mark Donnell and Assistant Chief Brandon Asher presented September’s information to the Fire Commission.
The District recognizes that it must have a bigger impact on the community and plans on spending upwards of $20,000 on public relations including social media, new media and other forms of communication with the public so they can better understand the Fire District.
The Budget prediction is pretty dire. The Fire District can only collect one percent over the 2020 budget amount. “People think that when the tax revenues go up, the District collects a lot more money. That’s not true. We will increase our budget by only $20,000,” said Donnell.
“There is a lack of understanding of the one percent cap,” said Commissioner Jones. “The expectation is that when taxes go up, we get a whole bunch of money. We need to educate the public.”
The Commissioners, after a short discussion in executive session, agreed to sign the Douglas County Fire District 15 Mutual Aid Agreement.
The District’s proposed 2020 budget will begin with $910,815.00, bring in $2,074,149.00 in taxes, another $227,129.00 from the SAFER grant, and add approximately $65,000.00 in additional revenue for a total of $3,277.081.00.