Town and fire district should continue to move forward — together | Editorial

This editorial was written before the Friday Harbor Town Council voted Nov. 9 on an agreement that essentially hires Fire District 3 to provide “administrative, training and operational services for fire protection” within the town limits.

In short, the agreement ensures fire protection service within the town limits, overseen by Fire District 3, until consolidation of the town and district fire departments is decided. It also provides for compensation for Fire District 3 for providing those services.

We hope that as you read this, the agreement had been approved. This agreement couldn’t come soon enough. Indeed, public safety was in jeopardy.

The town fire department has been decimated by resignations. The assistant chief for training resigned in March. Four fire officers and a firefighter resigned in August. The fire chief was suspended in August, went on medical leave and resigned two months later. The acting chief is stepping down at the end of November. The duty officer is on vacation.

Leaders of Fire District 3, which has been assisting on calls since August, said Friday that the town fire department doesn’t have enough firefighters to provide fire protection services within the town limits. Acting Town Fire Chief Tom Eades said the town now has only 12 qualified firefighters, but the department is not able to recruit “because we don’t know what’s going to happen to the department.”

This agreement is a big first step toward consolidating the departments, which will lead to more efficient service and consistent standards and training.

Town and district officials should also take this opportunity to improve how they communicate with each other. District Commissioners John Jensen and Albert Olson were angry Nov. 3 that the town had not approved an interlocal agreement placed before the town a month earlier, and Jensen even called for District 3 to not respond to calls in town. But when asked if any commissioners would be attending the Town Council meeting the next day to express their concerns, they said no.

Mayor Carrie Lacher said she contacted District Fire Chief Steve Marler on Nov. 5 and said she was available to meet. And the council was expected to vote Nov. 9 on the interlocal agreement.

We appreciate Lacher speeding the process up, which was the goal of the district commission’s chest-thumping. But as the directly-elected chief executive of the town, she should have been aware of the state of her fire department and the sense of urgency regarding the need for an agreement.

Lessons learned. Now, we encourage both sides to leave their egos at the door and proceed as partners for progress. There are no territories at stake, ladies and gentlemen, only the safety and well-being of your constituents.

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