Chelan Fire has busy July

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by Richard Uhlhorn

Fire Chief Mark Donnell, does not see any major changes to Chelan Fire & Rescue’s revenues based on current real estate values. “I don’t see that changing,” said Donnell. He feels that the real estate values will remain high over the next few years and sees no reason to move forward with a levy request.

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Donnell reported that this July has been the third busiest July in the District’s history. “We have been busier than normal,” stated Donnell. “We’ve had a number fires out of the District. The good thing is we’ve had zero dollars in fire loss.”

Beginning on July 11, the District responded to the Mansfield Brush Fire that ended up with State mobilization. That fire was the first major blowup that required state mobilizations. On July 24 District personnel were mobilized to the Coluckum Fire. Four days later on July 28, the Waterville Brush Fire became a state mobilized fire and on July 30 the District helped on the Moses Coulee Fire which was also a state mob. fire.

Other fires and emergency response involving fire personnel was the Easy Street Fire on July 13, a structure fire on Chelan Butte on July 17, a brush fire in Chelan Falls on July 22 and a structure fire on July 30.

Rescue crews responded to a situation in the Chelan River Gorge where four Seattle adventure hikers were trapped by high water on the wrong side of the Gorge. They were eventually rescued by Chelan Fire & Rescue with the help of the High Ropes Rescue Team from Wenatchee.

In addition to the fire activity, the District was involved in the rescue of four trapped young adults in the Chelan River Gorge when the PUD released 800 cubic feet of water. This rescue included personnel from the Wenatchee Fire District’s rope rescue team.

There was a conversation about hiring ER Recovery, a company that offers billing services and IT solutions for first responders and ambulance companies. Donnell said, “They specialize with invoicing and billing and pretty impressive statistics.”

The District has billed several companies for emergency calls to defray resource costs. One such company is Chelan Tree Removal for a non-permitted fire that required District resources. They have not responded to the District. Two other companies who have not replied to District invoicing for resources is Safeway and Kelly’s Hardware, both of whom had need of Hazmat services. “We need to have some incentive to sold these problems,” said Donnell.

Who to bill and who not to bill was a part of the conversation. “Are they residents in the Fire District? The District’s rescue operation in the Chelan River Gorge involved four individuals who are Seattle residents, and who did not heed PUD Warning Signs to stay out of the Gorge.

There was also a recent paragliding accident on Chelan Butte that required District resources to remove the badly injured pilot. “This was a high risk rescue that used a lot of manpower which taxes our system,” said Donnell. “They take the responsibility and we need to go after them for those (resource) charges,” stated Donnell.

Oules asked who would be excluded from District charges. “Are we billing those idiots (Gorge rescue),” asked Oules. Moller said he would be in favor of billing or hiring ER Recovery, but felt it need more discussion. “We only have five or six instances a year,” said Donnell.

The recent Knapps Coulee Fire was contained quickly by
Chelan Fire and Rescue personnel.

“Turnout is pretty good,” stated Donnell. “We had enough people at Knapps Coulee to get around the fire and were able to call of air support before using it. A few minutes more and we would have needed it.” The cause of the Knapps Coulee fire is still under investigation. “It was close to the road, so it could have been a cigarette or a spark.”

There have been two Marine 71 operations. “I’ve been quite impressed with how quickly we’ve been able to respond. I think we’ve been able to put together a very good marine and rescue swimmer program.”

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Chelan’s Fire and Rescue’s Marine 71 has been highly successful responding to accidents on Lake Chelan this summer. 

Russ Jones stated that he is impressed and happy with some of the volunteers for the Marine program. “It was a gratifying water rescue. We made a difference in the outcome,” said Jones who added that Marine 71 arrived several minutes before the Sheriff and the Sheriff’s Marine Patrol boat showed up alone.

State mobilization brings in additional revenue to the District and Administrative Assistant Carol Kibler said the District has receive $27,000 in state mobilization funds which is being placed into the District’s Capital Investment Fund.

However, Chief Donnell told the Commissioners that California had called and asked for some resources. There was also a request for a crew to Okanogan. “That’s not going to happen,” said Donnell. “I don’t want to deplete our resources.”

Phil Moller stated that was a good choice. “We get one out and no one else goes.”

The District and City have scheduled a meeting for Tuesday, August 25 regarding fire services to the City. “Hopefully I can update you (on negotiations) next week,” said Donnell.

The Siren was also a topic of discussion at the meeting. “We have strong support of the community,” said Donnell. The activation of the Siren for a structure fire in Chelan Falls was not needed. “We did not receive a lot of complaints. We will do whatever the board wants.”

Moller remarked that he thought the Siren was to be used when the community was in imminent danger like the 2015 Complex. “It’s old technology. We never want to use the Siren to get people to respond. It should not have gone off for Chelan Falls.”

Donnell replied that the Siren can be changed for however the commission wants. Russ Jones replied that he wanted to leave things as they are. “I’ve been impressed with the support. We need to get information out on Social Media.”

Karyl Oules said, “I’d like to leave it where it is. If we start having issues with it we can come back and visit.”

Chief Donnell brought up the 2020-2025 Long Range Plan and SWOT Analysis and told the board that the District needs buy-in from the Board, Staff, Fire Fighters, Volunteer Fire Fighters and the Community. This document is only good when you buy into it,” he told the Board.

The three questions on the SWOT Analysis are:

  1. Where are we;
  2. Where are we going; and,
  3. How do we get there.

Moller asked if he had talked with Chief Arnold Baker about their plan and the way District 5 has their plans laid out. Donnell replied that District 5’s document is a usable guide of the District. He stated that he would be visiting with Baker and talk about how both organizations can cooperate.

The Board and others are in the process of reviewing the 2020-2025 Long Range Plan and will discuss its content and any changes at the next Fire District meeting.

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