Fire department or first aid unit?

July 29th, 2008 by Ken

The City of Lacey and Fire District 3 are locked in a showdown that could spell the end of fire departments as we know them and maybe give us a look at what the new lifesaving departments will become.

The City of Lacey contracts with Fire District 3 for fire services and has since the city was incorporated in 1966.  The two negotiate contracts and the department provides fire services to the city.  In addition, the department provides medical first responder services through a separate contract with Medic One.

Over the years the relationship between the city and the fire district has ranged from arms locked in an embrace, to cold shoulders and hot words.  We are currently in the cold shoulder and hot words time frame.

When in such a period of conflict with the fire district, Lacey has often threatened to start its own fire department or contract with another fire district.  But, before too long, the two sides are locked in loving embrace with both operating under the assumption that they need each other.  The city needs the fire service and the district needs the money the city pays.

Conflict between the two sides this time around revolve around the expenditures of money and poor fiscal management on the part of the district, according to the city.

Consequently the city is once again looking at an alternative to contracting with the fire district for fire services.  City Manager Greg Cuoio is looking at starting its own fire department with buildings and equipment the city jointly owns with the fire district.  It’s also looking at contracting with another fire district – – Olympia or South Bay perhaps.

Cuoio thinks that the time is ripe for a new concept of fire service.  He points out that less than three percent of all calls are fire calls and that half of those are false alarms.  He  quotes statistics that show the city has one fire every 40 days.  A condition he feels is manageable.

If the city decides not to renew its contract with the fire district when it’s up in about two years, Cuoio feels a new department could work.  Using fewer fire fighters and some volunteers he thinks the city can provide adequate fire service.

Emergency medical aid would still be provided to the City of Lacey by Medic One, which  currently contracts with Fire District 3 for such service.  The fire district would continue to provide that service to residents of Lacey.  Other fire services like inspections are also under a separate contract with a different government agency and would also continue.

 Cuoio’s concept of fire service is a  new, lean city agency which responds only to fires using a combination of professional fire fighters and anxious volunteers.  Medic calls which comprise 97 percent of all emergency calls would be handled by Medic One which receives a countywide tax for that purpose, a tax residents of Lacey already pay.  Whether or not Medic One continues to contract with Fire District 3 for first responder services would be up the two departments.

Cuoio is charged with making a recommendation to the Lacey City Council shortly.  At that time we should have a better understanding of what the future of fire departments in Thurston County will look like.

Posted in Government, Informational, The Real News

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