by Richard Uhlhorn
Fifteen years… that is how long it has been since Chelan County Fire District No. 7 (Chelan Fire and Rescue) has passed a levy lid lift.
At the District’s commission meeting on Wednesday, January 20, under New Business, Chief Mark Donnell told the commissioners that 2021’s budget is Ok, but from 2022 and beyond, the projected budget is not a rosy picture. “My perspective,” said Donnell, “is that it has been 15 years since we’ve passed a levy.”
Since 2006 when the District passed its last levy, the Lake Chelan Valley has changed dramatically. More and more people are choosing the Valley as their new home, or at least a location for a second home. This demographic change has put new pressures on the District.
In addition, the District has undergone a transformation from an all Volunteer Department to a District that has both Career and Volunteer staff to serve the needs of the district. That transformation has also included a number of new regulations required to certify volunteers as firefighters able to respond to firefighting emergencies.
Men and women who used to volunteer for service now find the time commitment to be burdensome on their work and personal lives, so attracting individuals who are dedicated to the service is difficult.
In addition, the financial issues of maintaining a department and its personnel is becoming strained. “We can make dramatic cuts in service,” stated Donnell. If the department is not able to pass a new levy, dramatic cuts are will be forced, which is not good for the service area.
When fire breaks out, whether structure or wild, the community relies on its fire fighters to respond in an efficient manner. As an example, current regulations require four structure certified firefighters on scene before two of them can enter the structure. If it is, for example, a small kitchen fire, in inability to enter the structure could mean a fully involved structure fire.
Because of the increasing financial pressures, the District is hopeful it can float a new levy lid lift in the 2021 November election cycle. To do this, however, the District needs to file its intentions by August 3.
The commission and staff discussed the necessary steps forward to get ready for a new levy. “We are already behind the eight ball,” said Donnell. “Moving forward with a (citizens) group is critical.”
Chairman Phil Moller suggested that the District should be able to accomplish what needs to be done in-house. “We could put together a mailer and have people fill out a guest questionnaire,” said Moller. Commissioner Russ Jones worried about the timeline to do that and asked, “Are we going to get a quality return. I’m leaning towards a group.”
Chief Donnell replied that he likes the group idea because it can include a cross representation of the community. “We need to educate the community and if we don’t educate??”
Commissioner Karyl Oules said that she wants to hear what the community wants. “If we do a levy, it needs to succeed,” said Oules. “If we fail another levy, we need to clean house and figure out what we are doing wrong.” Donnell added that he has no intention of floating a levy that will fail.
The Department will try to put together a Citizen Advisory Group of 15 to 20 residents to work out the details of how to educate the public to the need for a new levy. Jones said, “It’s time to get education out to the public.
Dan Crandall, Firefighters Association President recommended that the District ask Ray Dobbs to facilitate the group. Dobbs acted as the liaison between the City and department when he served on the Chelan City Council. He also has a long history of public service in the community.
The Commission will make a decision at the February meeting on the how to approach the District residents with its future needs.
FIRE CHIEF’S REPORT:
Chief Donnell reported that the District spent 99 percent of its projected budget by the end of 2020. The District normally carries over $500,000 in reserve, but Donnell said that the carryover is actually $720,000. “Its from all the hard work we did (on state mob),” said Donnell. The ability to keep seasonal firefighters employed allowed staff to work State Mobilization jobs during the 2020 wildfire season. “We still have some uncollected revenues from our State Mobilization,” said Donnell. “We would not have brought in that much from State Mobilization without the seasonals,” added Donnell.
Chairman Phil Moller thanked Donnell, Administrator Carol Kibler and Assistant Chief Brandon Asher for the excellent job they did on the budget.
DECEMBER INCIDENT REPORT:
Chief Donnell told the commissioners that December was the busiest month since 2010. One of the incidents was a call out from Campbell’s Resort for smoke at the Riverwalk Room. “We got a good turnout for Campbell’s,” said Donnell. “We put out a second alarm because we weren’t sure where the fire was and how bad it could get.” The firefighters were able to locate the seat of the fire within 20 minutes and put it out. “It could have been a serious event,” said Donnell.
Structure fires require quick response and Chelan Fire and Rescue is closing in on a two minute out the door with arrival at the fire within eight to 10 minutes.
Moller asked if the fire hydrant was fixed. Apparently the contractor on the Old Bridge project installed a 5 inch Storz fitting to the new hydrant instead of the standard 4 inch fitting.
Apparently, the Lookout has the same issue along with its narrow one-way streets. Moller said he is worried bout the hydrant fittings at the Lookout and wants the District to change them out to the proper 4 inch fittings and then bill the City for that change out. “If we can’t hook up there in case of fire,” said Moller. “Let’s get even a couple changed over. We don’t have to do all of them at once.”
Chief Donnell said one of the bigger issues is fire inspections of water supply and buildings. “We need to sit down with the City’s Code Enforcer, but they are busy with 85 applications. He is also the fire marshal. We need to have a Fire Inspector.”
Commissioner Jones asked how much the fittings cost. Donnell replied that they run around $200 each. “I would be willing to bet that the contractor or developer would fix the problem.”
Moller asked about other developments. Donnell replied that all the new developments were installing the proper fittings.
Donnell said the department would be moving forward with a new SAFER grant and a Regional Fire Prevention Safety Grant (Community Risk Program). “Arnold (Chief Baker – CCFD No. 5) thinks there is a good chance of getting this one… Lake Wenatchee did.”
The new ladder truck (Ladder 71) has a serious corrosion issue that needs to be resolved. “Northwest Fire can do that work,” said Donnell. “There is significant damage.” The cost of shipping the truck and fixing the problem will be around $250,000. “It will take up to a year with the truck out of service, but the good news is that when it comes back, it will be good for another 20 years.” The other option is to sell the truck for $175,000.
“I need direction from the board. We can move money around and more revenues are coming in,” stated Donnell. Moller stated that it was a lot of money, but that $250,000 is not a bad deal for a ladder truck that will last 20 years.
Assistant Chief Asher stated that the ladder truck has the big engine and was installed before all the emission criteria was made. The Duty Crew chimed in and remarked that everyone likes the truck. “It is a significant upgrade to the old one,” said one of the crew members.
Commissioner Oules said she didn’t think the expenditure to fix the truck was a waste of money, but asked how the District was covered while it was out of service. Chief Donnell replied that Entiat’s is still in service and that one is available from Wenatchee on a second alarm.
ASSISTANT CHIEF REPORT:
Chief Asher reported that local volunteer training was scheduled in Wenatchee on February 2. “We picked up one new volunteer recruit for Chelan and one for Entiat. None for Orondo,” said Asher.
EMT training is currently on-line but Asher hopes to have in-person training in first week of February.
FIRE ASSOCIATION REPORT:
Dan Crandall reported that the Association has $3,800 in its bank account; $11,500 in its Gala account and $18,000 in the Marine 1 account. “Overall we are in pretty good shape for the coming year even without fund raising,” said Crandall. ‘We have pretty much accomplished everything we needed to do on Marine 1.”
Moller asked about the installation of a pump on Marine 1. Jones replied that he has backed away from installing a permanent pump. “I want to experiment with a portable pump,” said Jones. Donnell added that the District has a portable pump already and when the weather is more conducive it can be checked out.
Donnell stated that he is still working on the City of Chelan/Fire District agreement. He also stated that he wanted to move $100,000 out of the General Fund to the Capital Fund. The board unanimously approved that transfer.
The next Board Meeting will be on Wednesday, February 17 beginning at 3 p.m. The public is encouraged to attend the virtual meeting by going to the District’s website at Chelan7.com and clicking on the ZOOM link on the Districts agenda.
NEW CAREER HIRE:
Chief Donnell introduced Brittany Atkinson as a new hire for the District. She told the commissioners that she was from Selah where she served as a volunteer firefighter before attending Central Washington University. She joined the U.S. Army as a generator mechanic, went to Afghanistan in 2019 and is now serving six years in the reserves.
She worked in the Lake Stevens District and instructed at the fire academy. “I love what they do here and love the people,” she said.