North County Outlook - Community newspaper serving Marysville, Arlington, Tulalip, Smokey Point, Lakewood

Talks continue on forming Regional Fire Authority


August 2, 2017 | View PDF

Christopher Andersson

Photo by Christopher Andersson Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring, left, Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert, center, and facilitator Karen Reed talk about a potential Regional Fire Authority during a July 27 meeting.

Officials from Arlington, Marysville and Fire District 12 met on July 27 to continue talks of consolidating their fire services into a Regional Fire Authority (RFA).

Fire department officials and elected representatives discussed some of the roadblocks to implementation and what a potential first year of an RFA could look like.

The three organizations began work with a facilitator over the last couple of months to move forward with a potential RFA which would combine the fire services into a singular entity.

Currently the City of Marysville and Fire District 12 share fire services as the Marysville Fire District.

At the meeting all three organizations reported that there was unanimous support to continue talking through the process.

Local officials are looking for a model that provides sustainable fire services. The efficiencies of a large organization could provide budget savings.

"I think there do need to be some cost savings in this to give up some mutual control," said Marysville City Council member Stephen Muller.

Those cost savings could mean lower taxes or better fire services.

"We finally have an opportunity for some of these capital projects that I know Arlington couldn't afford," said Arlington City Council member Chris Raezer.

"One of the things that gets me excited about an RFA is looking for optimum service," he said.

A bigger staff also allows for some better training opportunities and synergies between the fire departments.

"We felt it would just get better working together and that would have a lot of value," said Fire District 12 commissioner Tonya Christoffersen.

The structure of the governing board for the potential RFA could be one of the biggest roadblocks though.

Previous negotiations between the City of Marysville and Fire District 12 broke down because of disagreements about how much board positions should reflect the population of the districts.

Marysville's population is currently larger than Fire District 12 and Arlington combined.

Board representation "needs to be equal, although I don't know how we're going to define that," said Raezer. "We need to be able to tell the citizens of Arlington that they are absolutely represented at the table and won't be bowled over by Marysville or District 12, or the combination of those two areas," he said.

Marysville City Council member Jeff Seibert said population needs to be represented in an RFA board.

"That was the reason we couldn't come to an agreement with District 12, because we couldn't come to an agreement on governance," he said.

Seibert also pointed out that Arlington's original resolution of intent for planning an RFA, passed at their Aug. 1, 2016 board meeting, said that "the plan should result in a governing board that proportionally represents the taxpayers in the RFA."

"We're all representing our citizens the best we can and want an equal voice at the table," said Raezer, who added the line between equal and equitable still needs to be drawn.

"I understand Marysville not wanting to be pushed around by someone smaller as well," he said.

Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring said that the governance issue should be ironed out first.

"This may be an issue worth tackling up front this time. I'd hate to spend a lot of time and get down the road just to find we can't get past this," he said.

Arlington officials also expressed a desire to keep their fire department a part of the community.

"We have great pride in our fire department in Arlington. They feel like family and we have a lot of civic pride," said Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert.

"We want to feel like they're still part of the family, part of the community," she said.

The fire department is a part of local traditions.

"The Santa Run, for example, is a huge part of our fire department and our community, and how would that be incorporated into an RFA," said Arlington City Council member Jesica Stickles.

The two fire chiefs also discussed the benefits of a hypothetical first year of an RFA, even if no new investments were put into the fire departments.

Two Smokey Point stations, Station 63 and Station 48, could be consolidated. "With some modifications Station 63 can house what we want in there, personnel and equipment wise," said Martin McFalls, fire chief of the Marysville Fire District.

The modifications could be paid for with funds saved from not leasing Station 48.

"Station 48 was supposed to be a temporary station," said Bruce Stedman, fire chief of the Arlington Fire Department. "We've already outgrown it."

The two fire departments' ladder trucks are currently operated "cross-staffed," or with staff trained to both respond to life support calls and fire calls.

If the ladder truck staff is out on an aid call, that means a fire engine may not be immediately available.

"The Arlington Fire Department has two ladder fire engines that are cross-staffed and that means in reality we can't depend on having a ladder in Arlington or Marysville," said Stedman.

"We got bit pretty hard last summer because we didn't have a fire suppression unit in Smokey Point because they were out on an aid call," he said.

Stedman expects fire response times to drop on average if a dedicated ladder truck staff is available.

A potential RFA could have a dedicated ladder truck staff.

In addition a dedicated life support staff in Smokey Point could help with calls there.

"Dedicating a BLS [Basic Life Support] car out of that station will give us that redundancy to deal with multiple calls in that area which we experience on a regular basis," said McFalls.


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