San Juan Island Fire Department covers Brown Island, Pearl Island, the Port of Friday Harbor Marina, Roche Harbor Marina, Jensens Shipyard, Shipyard Cove, and the Friday Harbor Ferry Terminal in addition to San Juan Island with its numerous shoreline homes.
Fire Commissioner John Jensen is vehemently opposed to the department having a fire boat.
Yesterday, the three-member commission met in a special session to consider a proposal to become partners with the San Juan County Sheriff on the new public safety boat. The proposal would cost the fire department $10,000 a year more than the current cost of operating the fire boat Confidence, triple its fire-fighting capability and provide improved safety for the firefighters.
If the commission agreed, the boat which costs nothing to acquire due to a $789,000 federal Homeland Security grant, would be designed with the fire fighting capability the the fire department desired. It could include the ability to be used as a marine fire hydrant if necessary to fight fires in the town. In a disaster, water could be unavailable by other means. Also water pressure is low along Front Street in town in any case.
Bob Jarman is a county Council member and also a fire commissioner. Prosecutor Randy Gaylord advised Jarman he can serve in both positions but could not vote on this matter as a fire commissioner.
This left it up to Albert Olson and Jensen. For more than an hour, Fire Chief Marler, Sheriff Rob Nou, Jarman and Olson and other staff listened to Jensen rant.
Since Lopez and Orcas fire districts aren't participating as partners, he said it would be a case of District 3 taxpayers subsidizing them. It was pointed out several times, any time the boat was used for missions other than those for partners, the user would be charged.
Chief Marler asked how it was different than sending firefighters to help fight fires in Eastern Washington. San Juan Fire District does, and is reimbursed. Jensen still said he didn't want to do it.
When it was mentioned that in the case of an earthquake a fire boat provides the capability of responding to fires, Jensen said, "That won't help me." He was referring to the fact he lives inland.
It was pointed out to him, the taxpayers on Brown Island and Pearl Island expect coverage and their taxes most likely exceed $10,000 a year.
Another point which bothered Jensen, the Port of Friday Harbor does not pay for fire protection. Since they are technically not in a fire district, they do not pay. Jensen felt a fire boat wasn't needed to protect the boats. It was pointed out that the boat owners most likely did pay taxes.
After more than an hour of listening to Jensen's objections and calming him down, Albert Olson made a motion with compromise language to obtain Jensen's vote. The commission agreed to join with the sheriff in the boat project with the caveat that the fire department can ask to end the agreement after one year of operation. The sheriff would be given an additional year to resolve whatever issue led to the desire on the part of the fire department to end the agreement. If it wasn't resolved the agreement would terminate at the end of the second year of operation.
Jensen's term as fire commissioner ends at the end of this year. He has signed up to run again in the general election this fall.