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EF&R in turmoil

ISSAQUAH _ Many events have taken place in the last two weeks

that have made the future uncertain for Eastside Fire & Rescue, the

organization that provides fire services for a large portion of the Valley.

The latest development was the resignation of Fire Chief

James Rankin, effective 5 p.m. last Friday. Rankin held the position in the

new organization since January 1999, when North Bend, Carnation,

District 38, District 10 and Issaquah fire departments consolidated and

formed Eastside Fire & Rescue (ESF&R).

Prior to the merger, Rankin was Issaquah's fire chief from 1992

to 1998.

Rankin could not be reached for comment, but his resignation

letter stated, "I have reached a point in my career and my life that is

beneficial for me to reevaluate what opportunities may lie ahead for my family

and me."

But David Kappler, ESF&R board chairman and Issaquah

city councilmember, speculated that Rankin was unhappy with the

"culture clash" between Issaquah and

District 10 personnel that resulted from the consolidation.

"I don't think he was getting Eastside Fire & Rescue to where

he wanted it to be. I think that it was dragging him down and frustrating

him," Kappler said.

Several fire officials suggested that the chief's resignation could be

tied to another cause of controversy — a letter from Issaquah Mayor

Ava Frisinger sent to ESF&R board members announcing the city's intent to

re-establish the Issaquah Fire Department by next January.

In the April 25 letter, the mayor asked that all former Issaquah fire

personnel be assigned back to their original station by June 1. The surprise

request stems from ESF&R's discussions with the City of Sammamish

to provide contract services at the end of the year, the letter indicates.

The new city currently receives fire services from Redmond, District 27

in Fall City and ESF&R because Sammamish does not have an

established fire department and their land overlaps with those districts.

But by the end of the year, Sammamish will most likely

contract for services instead of forming their own department, said

Sammamish City Manager Mike Wilson. He said it would be logical to contract

with ESF&R because the consortium has several stations within city boundaries.

According to Frisinger, the problem with a potential Sammamish

deal is that no side contracts are allowed under the current consolidation

agreement. She said Issaquah would prefer to have a separate fire department

if the seven-year agreement is altered.

"If we are going to re-negotiate for Sammamish, then we should go

back to a level playing field," she said.

"If we re-open this agreement for Sammamish, then I am asking it

be open for all of us."

Commissioner Jeff Griffin, of ESF&R's District 10, disagrees

with Frisinger. He said that historically, cities have always received service

from fire districts and that a contract with Sammamish would be part of

that trend and would not effect the consolidation agreement. He emphasized

that there is room in the organization for other parties, including Sammamish.

"We're talking about providing service for what it costs, like we

do with everyone else," he said.

Acting Chief Lee Soptich said Frisinger's letter "came as a

bombshell" to ESF&R.

"Administratively, we are still trying to understand the reasoning

behind the letter. It essentially doesn't outline what concerns they have other than

the probability of the city forming their own department," he said. "When

we read the letter, we don't understand how [a potential contract

with Sammamish] has an effect on the consolidation agreement."

Soptich said that while these issues are being sorted out, residents

should not worry about their fire service being compromised.

As for officially becoming ESF&R's chief, Soptich said he

isn't concerned about that right now and is focusing on how to preserve the

organization.

"My position is I don't want the organization worried about me

when we have this bigger issue going on with Issaquah. I'm taking this as

the fire chief is on vacation, and as assistant chief, my job is to do the will

of the board and we'll get around to naming the chief later," he said.

The chief's position will be officially offered to Soptich by the end

of this week, according to Griffin, who believes ESF&R will be able to

work out all of these problems.

Eastside Fire & Rescue will discuss Frisinger's letter and future

plans this week.

"I'm optimistic that once [Issaquah] recognizes the level of

service and the price they are receiving, they will believe in ESF&R

again," Griffin said.

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