SANDPOINT — Selkirk Fire, Rescue and EMS is preparing to celebrate its third birthday on Tuesday.
“We have done a lot of great things in those three years,” said Selkirk Fire Chief Ron Stocking. “I believe we’ve created a great regional approach to emergency services for the citizens of Sagle, Sandpoint and Westside.”
Sandpoint and Sagle fire districts entered into a joint powers agreement on Jan. 2, 2015, with Westside Fire District joining in October 2016. Through the agreement, Selkirk maintains a consistent level of funding while providing a regional approach to fire protection. And although the regional approach is unusual for Idaho, Stocking said, it is common in other places around the country.
Since Selkirk was established through the joint powers agreement, there have been several instances in which the regional approach has worked in favor of the crews, as well as local residents.
One highlight, Stocking said, is since Westside entered into the agreement, their insurance service organization rating — how insurance companies rate people for fire insurance — went from an 8 to a 4 in the city of Dover and all areas within five miles of the fire station.
“I know, for instance, one of the commissioners in the Westside fire protection district, their insurance went down by half,” he said. “So that is one of the huge benefits to a regional approach to fire protection.”
The agreement has proven itself during some recent “significant” weather events, as well, Stocking said. The first that came to mind, he said, was on Oct. 17 when several fires were sparked due to high winds. At that time, 24 firefighters responded to the fires, and Selkirk even had the availability to release an engine to help out a neighboring fire jurisdiction.
More recently, he said, when the snow storm hit on Dec. 19, Selkirk crews responded to 46 calls in a 24-hour period.
“No single agency can handle that,” Stocking said. “But because we are under a regional approach, we are able to handle it … We handled every single one of those calls without calling for assistance, and that is a direct result of the joint powers agreement. So I am extremely proud of that.
Another highlight, he said, is the Careywood station will be opening this summer and will be staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Stocking said they are “very excited” about that because Bonner County is growing and there has been an increase in call volume in that area. The station will be up and running with no additional tax dollars to the public, simply by moving personnel around, he said.
Going from three individual departments to acting as one big fire department, Selkirk consists of 22 career firefighters and fluctuates between 30 and 40 volunteers at any one time. Volunteerism around the country is at an all-time low, Stocking said, and Selkirk is no different. In attempt to counteract that, the department started a “sleeper program,” where volunteers are paid a stipend to sleep in the fire stations. Selkirk is starting a resident program Feb. 1 as well, he said, with all the intention to improve the services provided to the public.
While change can be difficult for some and the transition is slow for entities to embrace a regional approach to fire protection, the agreement has worked to the benefit of the departments and the community, Stocking said.
“These firefighters have gone through a lot in the last three years of stepping up our game and I’m extremely proud of them,” Stocking said. “I think that 2018 is going to be an exciting year for us.”
Mary Malone can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.