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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
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
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
"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.