Washoe report examines fire services in the Truckee Meadows
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The future of fire services in the Truckee Meadows has been a major topic of debate these past months, from mutual aid to the financial stability of Reno's department. On Tuesday, Washoe County commissioners will look at a new report that drives home the point that a different approach is needed.
The challenges of establishing a regional fire service are myriad. Cost sharing, arbitrary jurisdictions, crew sizes, the list goes on. But essentially, all of those can be boiled down to turf, power and politics. So says the Blue Ribbon Committee commissioned by the county to do a thorough analysis of fire services.
Sarah Chvilicek is the chair of the committee and says, "In terms of regionalization of services, it has to be a completely autonomous board--autonomous from all of the other elected bodies."
That would mean elected officials from the county or city would no longer be in charge thereby cutting out some potential conflict. Chivilcek says the research they've done, as an independent group representing citizens, indicates that regionalization is the most efficient way to administer fire services. But they're not naïve. Cost sharing is a huge concern. It's what led to the fracturing of the inter-local agreement several years ago. A good starting place, Chivilcek says, is an automatic aid agreement.
"'I don't care what color that engine is, which bodies employ them, when I'm in need, I need the closest unit to respond to me,' and we heard that over and over from citizens that they don't want to get in the middle of a fight," Chivilcek says.
The report recommends that an automatic aid agreement keep track of how much each agency spends on the other's calls and reimburse accordingly at the end of the year.
Charles Moore is the fire chief for the county and he says fire is the only place automatic aid doesn't exist currently. It needs to happen, he says, but with a phased approach so that one agency isn't using more resources than the other.
"So maybe the place you start is with structure fires and brush fires, those are the more devastating of course, it seems to make sense that you would add in heart attacks and severe trauma to that mix, either those calls happen with that amount of regularity. So I'm groping for a way here to try resolve everyone's concerns that they're going to have to respond for the other jurisdiction," Moore says.
Financial stability of the two agencies is always in the background of this conversation. Right now, the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection Department is on good financial footing, about to close the year with an ending fund balance of 25%. The city, of course, is in the midst of cutting dozens of positions.
Finally, collective bargaining would be a key piece of the puzzle for regionalization. The concern raised in the report and echoed by Moore is that groups could cherry pick from each other's contracts.
"That puts us in a situation where financial sustainability goes out the window because it would drive up cost by several million dollars. If you took the best out of every labor agreement, then made that the new labor agreement, then things get quite expensive. "
All these logistics and pitfalls make the possibility of one regional fire agency seem like a far off dream. But, in the immediate future, automatic aid could have a meaningful impact on public safety.