The Fire Commission meeting held last Wednesday brought many county fire and EMS volunteer’s out to the meeting. The agenda was very short, but included items regarding amended language and creating an elected fire district.

Public comment was first up in the meeting. Jennifer Hollingsworth spoke before the commission saying, “I would ask the commission that if that their going to allow for the closest unit to respond to consider all the agencies that are involved in this, not just the city and the county but the other agencies.”

Hollingsworth also read a letter to the commission from William L. Hendrix, Chief of the Lund Volunteer Fire Department. Part of Hendrix’s letter addressed issues with the loss of volunteers, and the concern of the direction the fire commission was headed.

In Hendrix’s letter, he stated “Ten years ago we were all excited to have our own county fire district for us volunteers, paid staff, and to offer the very best training. Since the start of the fire district we volunteers have had nothing but an uphill battle instead of trying to improve ourselves.”

The first item up on the agenda was for discussion or action and possible approval to amend the interlocal agreement to allow the closest unit to respond. Commissioner Shane Bybee spoke first explaining that the reason the item was placed on the agenda was due to the new sheriff bringing it to the fire commission’s attention that the wording in the document didn’t support the agreement.

According to the agreement, an agency was being dispatched to a call but with the wording in the agreement it didn’t allow dispatch to weigh in on the decision. Bybee said, “Consequently it dropped back in the lap of the fire district to make the decision on who was to be called next, so it was discussed that we needed to change the language so that it gave some discretion to dispatchers.”

The section in the agreement that the fire commission is looking to amend reads: The White Pine County Sheriff’s dispatch will make all reasonable efforts to contact the party of the primary jurisdiction covering location call.

Wheable said. “The language isn’t precise enough.” Bybee said, “For this to run smoothly, it needs to fall back on the sheriff’s office that’s running dispatch, to be able to say it’s okay to call the closest, best equipped and most able to respond. There’s times when certain stations are more equipped and have more available volunteers to respond and there’s time when they have less, and dispatch has got to be able to have the freedom to roll the station that can give the best response, and that’s all this verbiage change is that it allows for that.”

Commissioner Richard Howe tried to find some reasoning during the meeting, and gave an example of the difference between jurisdictions by posing the question to Sheriff Scott Henriod that if a call was at Mineral Heights, which is outside city limits, and the Ely city fire department is closer, could dispatch the call to the city first and ask if they were staffed enough to go to Mineral Heights?

Henriod commented that would be wasting valuable time. Bybee said, “I got a feeling that the reason we wouldn’t because it’s city and county, if that city of Ely station was a county station and there was someone having a heart attack in Mineral Heights we wouldn’t even be having this discussion that you would roll that station, but since it’s a city station we want to discuss whether were gonna roll from the highway or from Ely and I don’t get the point.”

Commissioner Steve Stork explained to the commission and crowd that part of what brought this whole discussion up was a recent incident in front of Sahara Motors on the McGill Highway that took place several weeks ago.

Members of the commission approached Sheriff Henriod to discuss the issue because there were some concerns. Stork explained that White Pine County Fire Station 1 was dispatched they arrived they requested additional help, dispatch paged Lackawanna no response, they paged McGill, no response, there was some period of time later, that dispatch deferred to the responding unit asking them if they wanted dispatch to contact Ely.

“When the whole time Ely was probably the closest second response, we need to take that pause and hesitation out of the dispatch center and let the dispatchers do their job.” Stork said. Bybee followed it up with stressing that when someone calls for help, dispatch should page a unit until they get help no matter who has to be paged.

Howe commented that dispatching both is going to cost some money, and Hollingsworth who was in the crowd said “I think that what Carol brought up, dispatching both units, in this agreement the funding only goes one way, and so in the instance as to who is going to cost more money, in my opinion as a provider is irrelevant, what is important that in the instance that the city doesn’t have an available unit instantly or we don’t that if both units are dispatched to the questionable area, that we have units in response. We’re going to work together seamlessly like we always do. Paging both units is probably the best way to do it.”

Bybee stressed to the commission that this is why this agreement needs to be modified, “We had this case in front of us where there was a request for help, we paged one county station, we paged the second county station, why did we stop there? We need to have an agreement that says you page until you get the help that was requested.”

Stork commented saying they needed to untie the sheriff’s hands and let dispatch do their job.”

Henriod also commented that one of the things that need to happen is that a unit shouldn’t be stopped while en route until someone gets on scene. Chief Ross Rivera spoke before the commission addressing what many were saying their goal is to get someone there when dispatched.

Rivera gave an example of an incident that happened in Ruth. “We got as far as the Hotel Nevada, we were asked to stand down because the county was going to respond. Is that being responsible for that person in Ruth? I don’t think it is. We don’t stand anyone down until we have a unit on scene.”

Discussion of the language was at great lengths,  there was no doubt that dispatch needs to be given discretion on who to dispatch when a call comes in. No vote was given after it was determined that Wheable will be need modify the language in the agreement and bring it back before the commission.

Agenda item five was discussion and possible action direction to the District Attorney’s office to draft and or a resolution to move forward with making the fire commission an elected board.

Wheable said a memo was requested by the volunteer fire chiefs to explain the legal process on how it works for the fire district to be reorganized into an elected district. There are two ways, one is a majority of property owners can sign a petition asking for it to be reorganized which takes a lot of work, or two the county commission can pass a resolution to reorganize it.

The seats would only be in the county, not the city. They would need to be from each precinct, but it can only be county. Commissioner Gary Perea had questions on the financial impact it would have. Commissioner Howe said, “This would exclude citizens of the city.”

Councilwoman Carol McKenzie was in favor but not sure how far they would get with it. “We need to look at what needs to be done, and see if we can get people interested on being on the board.”

William Ward, former chief for Lackawanna, stood up during the meeting and said, “I know you don’t want more bureaucracy, however the choice is not your choice, it’s up to the landowners in the district, there’s two ways of doing it, the quick and easy way with the least amount of expense or we can go thru the petition issue, and force your hand and get approval by the state fire warden.”

Perea made the motion to draft an ordinance to have the fire district to become an elected board, McKenzie seconded it. But before the vote, Bybee said, “I could come on and support this if the City of Ely agreed to become part of it because then you’ve given every property taxpayer that’s going to pay into these budgets  a say, as soon as we do this we’ve taken half of these property tax owners say out, this is the board that is making the decisions with the dollars that these property tax owners are paying and I think pulling that control from half the voters in the county is a mistake.”

The commissioners voted on the motion, McKenzie and Perea voted for it and Howe, Stork and Bybee voted against it. Howe said, “You have the option as property owners to go ahead and petition.”

The meeting was closed for a closed personnel session for County Fire Chief Tim Woolever. This is the second personnel session for Woolever in six months.