Citing safety concerns, a group of area residents want to create a new fire district north of the White Salmon city limits.
James Hulbert, chair of the "Committee to Withdraw from Fire District No. 3 and Form a New Fire District," attended the Feb. 20 meeting of the White Salmon City Council and explained that some residents want to designate the White Salmon Fire Department as the primary emergency responder for the area, which is now covered by Fire District No. 3, based in Husum. They are seeking to withdraw the territory within White Salmon's urban growth area from Fire District No. 3's coverage area.
Hulbert sent a letter to the Klickitat County Fire District No. 3 Commissioners on Feb. 12, and listed three specific reasons for the proposed move:
The White Salmon Fire Department is in a better position to provide fire protection to the contract area. Response time from the Husum Fire Station is considerably longer than from the White Salmon Fire Station. Further, the White Salmon Fire Department is better staffed to handle fire emergencies;
A new fire district in the contract area would have a lower fire insurance rating. Currently, Fire District No. 3 has an ISO rating of 8. By forming a new fire district, the contract area would have a rating of 6, or possibly a 5. This would result is considerable savings to residents in the contract area;
By forming a new fire district and contracting with the city of White Salmon, the city would receive most, if not all, of our fire protection taxes. This would amount to about $90,000 per year going to the city. This would allow the city Fire Department to upgrade its equipment and service. Having a better equipped White Salmon Fire Department means better fire protection to residents in the contract area.
"Our concern has to do with the need to be sure we'll have the best first response/fire protection we can have," Hulbert said. "We have no problem with Fire District No. 3 -- our problem is the distance involved."
Hulbert explained that the existing agreement with Fire District No. 3 had worked well for many years, but times had changed.
"Back then, the urban growth area was a pretty rural area, but it is more densely populated now. We feel the urban growth area is a better fit with the White Salmon Fire Department rather than Fire District No. 3," he explained.
White Salmon Fire Chief Bill Hunsaker said he agreed with Hulbert's analysis.
"Everything Jim has said is the truth," Hunsaker said. "We have responded to that (urban growth) area for several years. We definitely can get there a lot faster than Husum."
Wayne Carlock, a former fire chief with 43 years of firefighting experience, said he believed forming a new fire district would be a wise move.
"White Salmon, as far as I'm concerned, is getting ripped off," Carlock said. "We have people available quick like, and it really makes a big difference."
Hulbert said members of the fire district committee want to see their tax dollars go to improve the White Salmon Fire Department's equipment.
"Since our first response is coming from White Salmon, we'd like to see our tax dollars go to White Salmon so they can improve their equipment and staff," Hulbert said. "To do that, we have to form our own fire district."
Representatives of Fire District No. 3 have not yet responded to the group's proposal to form a new fire district.
"We'll hold all comments until the Fire Commissioners have had a chance to talk," said Mollie Krall, district secretary for Fire District No. 3.
The Fire District Commissioners hold their meetings on the second Tuesday of each month; their next session comes on March 11.
Krall said she attended the Feb. 20 meeting of the White Salmon City Council where Hulbert made his case.
"I was just there to observe the presentation," Krall said.
To form a new fire district, at least 25 percent of the eligible voters living in the specified area would have to sign a petition asking for the new designation.
"We would take that to the county and make a formal request to withdraw from the current district. Then we would have a vote of residents to have a new fire district," Hulbert explained.