PRESS RELEASE: For many years, the Friday Harbor Fire Department and San Juan Island Fire Rescue have conducted lengthy studies and sat through numerous discussions trying to negotiate the possibility of operating as one entity.
On Thursday August 11, 2011, the Board of Commissioners of the San Juan Island Fire Department signed the final paperwork making that goal a reality.
Both Town Administrator King Fitch and District Fire Chief Steve Marler applauded the decision, which most recently reemerged as a plan in December of last year.
" We've been hoping to accomplish the goal of a unified fire service for more than twenty years." The long-time Town Administrator told the Fire Commissioners. " It feels very good to be able to say that together we've finally accomplished this."
According to San Juan Island's Fire Chief Steve Marler, " This is one of those rare opportunities where everyone realizes a benefit. The Town realizes a cost savings.
The Fire District will receive a fair payment for their services. The Island's volunteer firefighters now receive standardized training and use one set of procedures. Everyone can feel better knowing that the closest emergency help will respond, regardless of any boundary lines on a map."
In an interlocal agreement approved in June with the Town of Friday Harbor, the San Juan Island Fire Department provides fire protection services to Friday Harbor at a cost that is equal to the amount that the District would collect from property taxes if the Town was annexed into the Fire District.
The District will lease the Town's ladder truck, a recently purchased fire engine, the fire boat Confidence and miscellaneous tools and equipment. At the expiration of the lease agreements, the District will own that equipment.
The Town of Friday Harbor Fire Department, which was founded in 1909, provided protection for 1.25 square miles of incorporated Friday Harbor. The Fire District was established in 1958 after several independent neighborhood stations were established around the island and wanted to operate jointly. The District covers the 56 square miles outside the Town limits and also includes Brown and Pearl islands.
The two departments have worked well together for many years including joint training, fire prevention education and with mutual support for emergency calls in each other's territory. Many believed the most efficient, safest and cost-effective way to operate was as one entity. Hence the ongoing efforts to consolidate have waxed and waned over time but never died.
At some point in the future, voters in the District and those in the Town will be asked whether to expand the Fire District's boundaries to include the Town. If that happens, the interlocal agreement would no longer be necessary. A ballot date has not been determined. In the meantime, the interlocal agreement is valid through 2015.
" For the public, as well as the firefighters, the transition has been so smooth that there hasn't been a noticeable difference or cause for concern," Marler said. " I look forward to a bright future for the Island's fire protection. The result of combining our resources is clearly more effective."