Regional fire service talks continue after Reno layoffs

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Regional fire service talks continue after Reno layoffs

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Within hours of Tuesday's announcement that the City of Reno is laying off 35 firefighters, the Washoe County Commission took up the question of forming a single regional fire service, which the area did at one time have.

That possibility resurfaced after Chairman David Humke and Commissioner Marsha Berkbigler recently attended private meetings with Reno Mayor Bob Cashell. In those meetings, they say they discussed the possibility of consolidation and creation of an automatic aid agreement, which would allow for the closest responders to put out a fire regardless of county and city boundaries.

Word of those meetings raised questions among several members of the public, especially after the city and county's messy fire divorce two years ago.

Berkbigler says they were not holding private meetings to begin actual negotiations:

"We have never intended to go in and think in terms of turning our fire department over to the City of Reno."

Instead, they talked about what an agreement between the county and city could achieve, especially for areas where fire stations overlap in coverage.

"One of the things we could look at, if we could reach an agreement with the City of Reno," Berkbigler says, "is closing one of those stations and moving those firemen to another station that is being currently browned out by the City of Reno."

While Berkbigler points to an automatic aid agreement as being essential for keeping all county and city residents safe, both she and Chairman David Humke say any arrangement they agree to must be financially sustainable.

And now that the City of Reno is closing three stations and laying off 35 firefighters, those questions linger.

"I don't want to point fingers at any other fire agency, any municipality," Humke says, "but to state it positively, Truckee Meadows Fire and Sierra Fire are operating on a financially sustainable basis. That is one of the reasons we left the interlocal agreement."

During yesterday's discussion, some commissioners including Bonnie Weber expressed concern that they were not included in these initial talks with the city:

"I do hope in the future that all commissioners will be apprised of any conversations that are held. Hearing from the public, hearing from the media about conversations that you all had, would be important for the rest of the commission to know and hear about."

Last month, the county created a Blue Ribbon Committee comprised of citizen volunteers to study the possibility of forming a regional fire service. That group will offer its findings in May.