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Current and future needs push levy lid lift discussion for Chelan 7 Fire Commissioners

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The Chelan 7 Fire and Rescue Board of Commissioners held their regular meeting on June 14, 2017 at the Chelan Fire Hall. (Photo by Jillian Foster)

Chelan 7 Fire and Rescue Commissioners met on June 14, 2017, in regular session. Discussion included the recent brush fire which occurred near the Chelan Airport and preparations for the busy fire season.

While the brush fire on June 12, 2017, was extinguished before the blaze reached over 105 acres, there was one issue that Firefighter Brian Thompson brought up to the commissioners regarding the desire for improved communication equipment.

Thompson recounted an issue during the fire where directions could not be heard while in the tender due to noise interference. “I would like to suggest to the commissioners that we do like we did with the engines and put some earmuffs and communication gear in [tender] 71, 74 and 75,” Thompson said.

Fire Chief Tim Lemon said that the department was already researching these for the tenders and for some of the brush trucks.

Brian Thompson recounts issues with communication during the June 12, 2017 brushfire and asks the commissioners to approve the purchase of better communication equipment for the tenders. (Photo by Jillian Foster)

A motion was made by Commissioner Russ Jones to authorize Chief Lemon to research and purchase radio intercom systems up to $10,000 for the three tenders and two brush vehicles. The motion was approved unanimously.

Assistant Chief Donnell updated the commissioners on the finalization of the volunteer academy which wrapped up earlier this month.

“We had 10 [volunteers] start and four complete which isn’t a bad number. I’d love to have 10 start and 10 complete, but those that have stayed on have been very enthusiastic, and we had them all respond for their first major event,” Donnell stated, referring to the June 12 brush fire. 

To learn more about volunteering with Chelan 7, visit their website.

Assistant Fire Chief Mark Donnell addresses commissioners on the completion of the volunteer training academy. (Photo by Jillian Foster)

Commissioner Jones presented his marine fire response proposal update which began after the commissioners’ May meeting. Jones took on the task to research the costs associated with purchasing a marine rescue vessel capable of holding a pump for firefighting and provide the agency with better capabilities for rescue on Lake Chelan.

“We have a boat. We have rescue swimmers, but unfortunately the boat we have is not up to standards for delivering rescue swimmers or responding to incidents in rough water, and it cannot carry a pump should that need arise,” Jones explained.

“I was personally involved in a double drowning that had the proper equipment been available for locating a victim under water, at least one of those victims may have survived,” Jones stated.

Currently, the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office has the primary responsibility for rescue on Lake Chelan. Jones explained that the sheriff’s training does not include training in rescuing victims from under vessels as the fire department’s rescue swimmers have been trained.

Jones reported that the US Coast Guard is currently auctioning off their safe boats which he believes to be an appropriate choice to suit the department’s needs.

“In addition to the initial $40,000 we can anticipate an additional $10,000 for transport and initial set-up of the boat for use,” Jones explained. “We already have a portable pump which can be used until a permanent one can be added. Additionally, we would have about $5,000 per year for operating expenses. We would also want to establish a reserve system for replacing motors if they wear out.”

Commissioner Russ Jones updates the commissioners on marine rescue needs for the department which leads to discussions regarding a levy lid lift. (Photo by Jillian Foster)

Jones also suggested establishing a position for a marine operator who could be drawn from the volunteers. The primary responsibility of the role would be to transport firefighters or rescue swimmers.

“I’m struggling because I see us spreading ourselves [too thin],” Commissioner Tom Peters said. “I’m at a point, Russ, where I think everything is a perfect storm. We have been talking about the potential of a levy lid lift. I really think it’s time to figure out what this department is going to look like moving forward and maybe have a third party come in here and look at this and give us their recommendation.”

The department’s last levy lid lift took place in 2006 setting a rate of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation. Details on that election and the department’s long range plan can be viewed here.

Chief Lemon added that the growth of the Lake Chelan Valley has and will continue to impact the department and the number of calls the department anticipates responding to over the next five to ten years.

“We are looking at about 125 calls per 1,000 people,” Lemon stated. The Chief went on to mention that in Chelan City Council meeting minutes from May 23, 2017, public comment was made indicating that there are an estimated 5,000 new residential units in the works to be built. With an approximate resident [population] of 2.5 per house, Lemon estimates that equates to over 1,500 additional calls per year for the department.

Peters inquired of the prospective timeline for an election should the board move forward with the levy lid lift. Chief Lemon handed out timelines for February and April elections in 2018.

 “I would prefer that we do a more thorough job and do it once,” Peters stated. “So, what are the next steps?”

“First, we need to figure out what we want and get that very focused,” Jones stated.

Chief Lemon recommended contacting the homeowner’s associations from around the region to ask for representatives to join an advisory board in addition to inviting representatives from local businesses.

The next meeting of the Chelan 7 Fire and Rescue Board of Commissioners is scheduled for July 12, 2017, at 4 p.m. at the Chelan Fire Hall located at 232 East Wapato Avenue in Chelan, Washington.

The volunteer training academy, led by Assistant Chief Donnell celebrated graduation on June 1, 2017 with four of the 10 recruits graduating. (Photo by Jillian Foster)

(By Jillian Foster)

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