Local control will be lost | Guest opinion

Former publisher debates pros and cons of fire merger.

By Jim McKiernan

Special to the Record

It seems that this debate comes up every few years in the Valley. Consolidation of fire services through Eastside Fire and Rescue (District 10) or independent departments, funded by members of the community. The last time this debate came up was when Snoqualmie was contemplating a similar move or the formation of their own department. They chose the latter.

The pros and cons can be debated like the banter currently surrounding all political discussions. Sides take a stand based on their knowledge of the situation and this writer is no exception. But there are questions to consider before voting yes and becoming part of a large organization. Part of my concern stems from the story with my good friend, Chris Connors. Chris has been a driving force behind the success of the Fall City Fire Department and I’m surprised he is taking a pro-merger stance on the issue.

So here are a few questions to ask before casting your vote. Will Fall City have a board member, from the community, on the EF&R advisory board or as a commissioner? I doubt very much that there will be any local voice at a board level other than Chris who will be rotating through the ranks of a battalion chief.

There was an argument stated that there would be more access to Wildland firefighting, technical rescue and hazardous materials teams. I’m guessing that a mutual aid request would have those elements in Fall City within a short amount of time without a merger.

There will be increased training and consistent staffing — Fall City has always been willing to support their local fire department, from a new aid car in the 1970s to passing supplemental funding levies. If training is needed, then it would be prudent for the commissioners and chief to request additional funding through that supplemental levy. Is there a recruiting problem that can’t be addressed locally? Seems to me that most departments have a huge number of applicants for positions. The element of community volunteers will likely be lost as firefighter unions, not exactly keen on the concept of volunteer firefighters, will push their agenda and dwindle those willing to serve in a volunteer capacity.

But what about any reserve funds which I understand are about $1.7 million, as well as the new aid car due to arrive. Will those funds and that aid car stay in Fall City or be allocated to a station within EF&R’s coverage area that may have a higher need? Will Fall City see a rotation of non-local firefighters or does that even matter anymore?

Why do I care when I don’t even live in Fall City anymore? Great question and here is the answer. Fall City holds a unique place in the hearts of anyone who has lived there, or more importantly, grew up there. And the fire department holds a special spot in my heart because I saw the blood, sweat and tears, that people like Mac Pearson, Gene Stevens, Leroy Bronemann, Tommy Brice, Kevin Hauglie, Stan Kropi and Chris Connor put in to establish and maintain such a treasure within Fall City. Their efforts provided a foundation for a kid like myself to grow up and decide to help out a local fire department here in Eastern Washington, volunteering at 54. (Yes it takes me about 10 minutes to get my bunker gear on.)

Jim McKiernan is a former publisher of the Snoqualmie Valley Record and a volunteer firefighter for Grant County Fire District 7.