August 15, 2013 | Vol. 117 -- No. 17

Sharing resources could help West Plains fire protection

Medical Lake, Airway Heights and Spokane County Fire District 10 have a plan to share resources in an effort to help each other operate more efficiently throughout the West Plains. The three fire departments are working together to produce a document that shows any duplications of service between them.

Airway Heights Fire Department
Spokane County Fire District 10 has the most area to cover on the West Plains, with 90 square miles of terrain.

Airway Heights Fire Chief Mitch Metzger said the idea first gained some traction within the city when one of the two pumps failed, necessitating the purchase of a new one listed at $7,000. Those pumps are brought to the scene of car collisions and various other calls in their service area. Fire District 10, however, has five to six pumps in their force, making seven total pumps in 10 square miles. It turns out that pumps weren’t the only item redundant between each fire department.

“As we went down through the list, we found some other areas,” Metzger said.

To help catalogue the potential areas where departments could work together and share resources, effectively cutting costs, the fire departments are now floating a proposal to bring in a third-party consultant. That person would be outside of the departments, without bias toward any agency. The move would provide a snapshot of each fire department, noting both good and bad areas, as well as places where each could improve or work together.

“He may come up with the answer that it won’t work,” Metzger said of the consultant.

But even if sharing resources won’t work, at least the departments will have that snapshot, putting it down on paper. A review of the three agencies will take four to six months.

The process started in Airway Heights back in August or September last year, looking for areas of duplication just internally. Other agencies caught on and identified their own areas for improvement.

The Airway Heights City Council will see the proposal to send out bids to contractors at its Monday, Aug. 19 meeting at 5:30 p.m. in the council chambers. Working between jurisdictions, however, may prove difficult as bid laws between the county and each of the cities is different. That will require one jurisdiction to take the lead in the process.

“It makes sense for us to do this,” Metzger said. “We’re all invested in this; we each have a dog in this fight.”

If things work out, the departments could begin coordinating in January 2016. But, should everything go smoothly, it may only take a year to roll out.

Airway Heights and Fire District 10 have a history of jointly training volunteer recruits for the last few years, with the county serving as the lead training agency. Last year, Medical Lake started participating in the training academy and Cheney is now in the mix as well.

“One example of how we work together is that academy,” Metzger said. “It really pays off.”

In Airway Heights, 90 percent of the force is made up of volunteers, with a similar makeup in Fire District 10 and Medical Lake. Airway Heights’ 30 volunteer firefighters respond to approximately 1,000 incidents each year.

Medical Lake’s 24 volunteers respond to over 600 calls and Fire District 10 with 72 volunteers responds to over 850 annual incidents.

Even if the worst should come from the consultant’s analysis, that won’t deter the departments.

“We’re not going to stop trying to work together. We’re not going to try and stop saving money,” Metzger said.

James Eik can be reached at james@cheneyfreepress.com.

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