Donnell retiring at end of December… Board approves Levy Lid Lift

by Richard Uhlhorn

A number of residents of Chelan Fire District attended the Commissioner meeting on June 16.

Fire Chief Mark Donnell publicly announced that he would be retiring effective December 31, 2021, however, promised the Commissioners that he would remain on until a new fire chief was found.

Fire Chief Mark Donnell (right) announced is retirement effective December 31, 2021, but said he would continue to help the district until they hired a new chief.

In his following Chief’s report he said the Department is on budget (slightly lower) and that the District received $70,000 from last year’s State Mobilization. “We have transferred $20,000 into the Capital Equipment Fund.

Donnell reported that the District is having a difficult time filling its Sesonal Firefighter position. “We are struggling to get that,” he said. “There are so many firefighter positions open.”

Chairman Phil Moller asked if it was possible to get staffing help from the Department of Natural Resources or the Forest Service. “We are all struggling to fill positions. It is a struggle for us, the Forest Service and DNR. California is having huge problems.

Moller replied that if the District is unsuccessful in filling the seasonal position by July that it doesn’t make sense to continue the search. Seasonal firefighters are hired from May through September normally.

Last year, the seasonal hires helped the District immensely when its career firefighters were deployed under State Mobilization.

Donnell reported that May was slower than normal. “Memorial Day was very calm Even the police said it was.” However, the weekend after Memorial Day there were 60 calls, “and we are only halfway through the month,” added Donnell.

The big worry by all agencies including Chelan Fire and Rescue is the July 4 weekend. “That is a party weekend.”

Donnell gave a lot of kudos to Marine 71 which has responded to a number of on-water issues already this year and helped making contact with boaters and personal water craft users.

The District held an open house at its Union Valley facility on June 11 and between 40 and 50 people attended. Most were interested in the fuel reduction program that has been taking place in Union Valley for a number of years under DNR grants.

Moller asked where the estimated 50 attendees were from. Donnell said that most of them were Union Valley residents. “That area is growing fast.”

Donnell also reported that Ladder 71 could be back in service by October. It is undergoing corrosion repair work.

Assistant Chief Brandon Asher gave a Volunteer and Retention and Training report to the commissioners.

Asher reported that one lateral fire fighter has been added, and “it is a great addition for us.” Another volunteer signed on at Station 75, two at Orondo and one in Entiat, however, Asher also reported that the District has also lost some volunteers.

The District has been filling its stipend slots with fire fighters who have been coming off of a 48 hour shift at their District and coming to Chelan for another 48 hour shift… or 96 hours.

Moller asked if there was a policy on that. Asher stated there wasn’t any and that these firefighters were working towards a career post somewhere. “They want to get as much experience as possible.”

The 96 hour stints does not mean that these firefighters are working the entire time. There are periods of sleep and rest, but they are available for service if an issue arises.

Asher reported that the wildfire training has finished up and red cards are being issued.

It was also reported that it will take the fire department 15 minutes to respond up Bradley Street to the newly approved 82 residential development above the golf course.

It was announced that a major paragliding competition is coming to Chelan in mid-July and Moller asked if there were any plans to respond to that area in case of an accident.

Asher responded by telling the commission that they have learned a lot of lessons for accidents up on the Butte. “A big benefit will be the ability to get a helicopter up there.”

(Editors note: Beginning on July 11 and lasting through July 24 Chelan will host a US Open Paragliding event and a US National Paragliding event that runs concurrently with the Open. Over 200 pilot have registered and 130 will be allowed to compete.)

FIREFIGHTER ASSOCIATION REPORT:

Dan Crandall, president of the association reported that they have made one $100 donation and have gifted $500 to the parade truck.

Currently the Association has $31,754 in the bank and Crandall mentioned that the Association has been requested to cover Marine 71 operational expenses. “We are reviewing that currently,” said Crandall. “It’s a new request.”

In the past the Association has supplied the funding to outfit Marine 71 with engines and other accessories to make it water ready.

Crandall stated that the Association’s new website has been launched at http://www.cd7ffa.com.

Commissioner Russ Jones added that Marine 71 has been on the water and well received by local law enforcement.

LEVY LID LIFT:

Chief Donnell reported that the resolution for going forward with the proposed Levy Lid Lift is ready for the board to approve or not approve. “We have to file no later than the end of July,” said Donnell. He added that the resolution has been reviewed by the District’s attorney.

The board unanimously approved the resolution to move forward with the levy.

Donnell remarked that if didn’t matter if he was still chief or not during the new chief search. “It has no bearing on whether I’m here or not. I’m committed to stay in place until a new chief is on board,” said Donnell. “I’ll be here to help… I’m committed to success.”

Donnell stated that the success or failure of the Levy will have a direct impact on finding a new chief. “Failure will limit the pool.”

Moller has proposed that maybe the District should look at contracting out for a part-time chief, i.e. Fire Chief Arnold Baker from District 5. Jones said the District needs to explore all options. “There are all kinds of options after the levy.”

Karyly Oules said they need to move forward and if the District can get it done before the levy that would be good.

Larry Peabody, a member of the District’s Citizen’s Advisory Group and a retired firefighter said he is in full agreement that the District needs to lift its levy because of the exploding growth.

Larry Peabody, a member of the District’s Advisory Committee, said he appreciated open discussion about the Levy. “Speaking for myself, having Marine 71 hang out on the water creates enforcement.”

John Corian said he had 31 years in fire services, both as a volunteer and firefighter. He told the commissioners that he is on the HOA board of Chelan Hills. He said that in his 31 year history with fire services that the board is making the step in the right direction. “This area is exploding,” he stated.

He said the size of the District calls for four to five on staff at the fire station all the time. “You really need two crews on at a time.”

Shawn Sherman, a Lt. with the District, wondered where the line is drawn legally and ethically in a supervising role. “We are putting people into dangerous positions while in stress,” he said. After the meeting and during public comment the 96 hour shift issue was discussed. Firefighters are not working for 96 hours, they are just on duty in case of an emergency.

Chris Baker, the City’s liaison to the Fire District said he supports the upcoming levy.

City Council liaison Chris Baker said the department has to grow. “There are many hundred’s of new houses planned. I support the levy and feel it is a small amount to pay.”

COMMISSIONER COMMENTS:

Oules stated she was already sold on the need for the Levy Lid Lift.

Karyl Oules (left) and Russ Jones added comments at the end of the
commission meeting on June 16.

Jones thanked the Firefighter Association for its contributions to Marine 71. “Your help has been immeasurable. We have a solid relationship with law enforcement.” Jones also said he rode with the department staff to a motorcycle accident on Sunday and stated that he was impressed with the coordination between EMS, the Fire Department and Law Enforcement. “Everybody knew what to do and did it.”

Moller said he appreciated the Associations purchase of Marine 71’s motors and other equipment. “It’s nice to be on the water and ready to go.”

The Chelan Fire and Rescue commission meets on the third Wednesday of each month at 3 p.m.

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