Chelan Fire and Rescue moving foward with succession plan

By Richard Uhlhorn

Chelan Fire and Rescue is expecting $170,000+ in State Mobilization money with $100,000 of that from equipment used on the wildland fires. “None of this would have been possible without our volunteers,” said Chief Mark Donnell. It was also reported that Marine 71 was hired for work on the Twenty Five Mile Fire and has earned $4,000, which will go into the Marine 71 budget.

The department responded to 117 calls in August which is 12 percent higher over last year. Fifty-two percent of the calls were medical in nature. Forty seven percent were non-transport issues.

            Advanced Life Support                                     11

            Basic Life Support                                            17

            Non-Transport                                                 43

“Lake Chelan Health and Confluence are in crisis mode,” said Donnell. “There is a huge influx of people coming in from Idaho.”

Donnell stated that turnout has been pretty good. The one loss in the Shady Pass area was the old 1917 Hale House that had an estimated worth of $526,000. The loss to the district in revenues is $340.88.

He said that the current estimated cost of the 25-Mile Fire is $20 Million. Structural assessments on structures on the South Shore were completed in 2013 and 2015. A lot of effort went into protecting those structures from the possibility of the fire reaching them from Shady Pass to First Creek.

The current state mandate for vaccinations has Donnell concerned that the District could lose some volunteers. “We are wanting to tweek the language for exemptions,” he said. “We hear some people would leave (if vaccinations were required).” Donnell said the exemptions would not affect the career staff who would be required to obtain vaccine status or an exemption or face the possibility of dismissal with the opportunity to hire them back.

Current Fire Chief Mark Donnell is planning on retiring at the end of December, and then mentoring Interim Chief Brandon Asher as needed through his
6 month to 12 month internship as Chief

Donnell reported that the City has taken over the maintenance of fire hydrants.

Assistant Chief Brandon Asher reported that two firefighters have taken retirement and another two have moved out of the area. Training has focused on wildland fires. “With the 25-Mile Fire we are starting to get a good baseline for wildfire.” He said the District was able to field a full Strike Team with equipment for six days on the 25-Mile Fire.

The firefighters have been testing hose and will be trained on the new portable radios which are programmable. He has also been in contact  with Chelan County Fire District 1 regarding a recruit academy.

Fire Fighter Association:

Dan Crandall reported that the association had no expenses in August, deposited $238.50 bringing the associations bank balance to $32,507.88. “We voted to donate $1,000 to the family that lost their home and all their belongings,” said Crandall. The association also decided to purchase all the candy for Halloween. He added that the associations website is up and being updated daily.

Fire Alarm Issue:

Donnell said that the Fire Alarm issue continues with a number of false alarms. Chelan Resort has so far had 22 false alarms. “We are creating a program to encourage businesses to work on their fire alarm systems.” Donnell said the District would respond to the first false alarm for free, but after that it would go to $50 for the second alarm and then up to $200 for the third alarm. “This money can go back to help fix the problem. It doesn’t penalize them.” He stated that Chelan Resorts is not moving as fast as he would like. “We don’t have a big problem with false alarms with the exception of Chelan Resorts,” said Donnell.

Budget:

Donnell said he and Asher would be meeting one-on-one with the board members to go over the two budget scenarios; one if the levy passes and the other if it doesn’t.

If Proposition 1 passes the annual budget for 2022 would be $3.1 million dollars and if it doesn’t, the budget would drop to $2.25 million.

Commissioner Russ Jones remarked that just because assessments go up, doesn’t mean a big increase in revenue for the District which is allowed to only increase by 1 percent per year.

Donnell stated that Asher will be leading the commissioners through the budget process as a part of his upcoming administrative duties.

Prop. 1 Public Relations:

The District is preparing a video that will be used to show a unified leadership within the Department and a message that shows that Chelan Fire & Rescue is an All-Hazard Department, not just a fire department.

In addition, a direct mailer is being prepared to send to District residents explaining the Levy.

The District will be using social media outlets to get its word out to the public.

They are also planning on a Community Coffee hour at the Vogue, Apple Cup and other locations so residents within the district can visit and ask questions of Chief Donnell, Assistant Chief Asher and Board members.

There is an October 4 Candidate’s Forum being planned and the District will be able to have levy information available.

Succession Plan:

Assistant Chief Brandon Asher has been selected to become Interim Fire Chief when Chief Mark Donnell retires at the end of December.

Donnell told the board that he is giving Asher more and more administrative responsibilities as they move towards Chief Donnell’s retirement date.

The Succession Plan looks like this:

  • Promote Assistant Chief Asher to Interim Chief effective January 1, 2022.
  • Chief Donnell would take an Executive Officer role to mentor Chief Asher in developing the necessary administrative strengths.
  • Leave the Assistant Chief Position open
  • Assign a Captain to a Day Captain position
  • Promote one Firefighter/EMT to Captain
  • Hire one additional Firefighter/EMT to cover the seventh position (which would reduce Overtime hours)
  • Chief Donnell would contract with the District at an hourly rate.

Donnell told the commissioners that his intent is not to rack up a number of hours, but just to help Chief Asher as needed.

The District also plans on conducting a Feasibility Study to analyze the possibility of an Interlocal Agreement with Manson Fire District #5 and Lake Chelan Health’s EMS department.

Chairman Phil Moller stated he sees no reason not to conduct the feasibility study.

Commissioner Jones said he doesn’t mind looking at a study either. Moller replied that it might bring the Lake Chelan community together. “What are the pros… what are the cons? All we are asking is, ‘What if’.”

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