Washington state “no man’s land” continues to generate opinions

Wildfire Today has previously covered the issue of the 49,000-acre Dry Creek fire (here, here, and here) and the fact that it was not within any established fire protection district in eastern Washington. At a meeting on November 23 some local residents complained that suppression of the fire was compromised or delayed because the fire was not within any tax-supported fire district. (Map)

The Daily News, “serving the lower Columbia”, has weighed in with an editorial. Here is an excerpt.

…A few legislators at the November meeting indicated that they would offer a bill requiring firefighters to immediately engage fires outside their fire districts. Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger, was one them. Chandler called it a “duty to serve” law, according to the Yakima Herald-Republic.

Firefighters already recognize that duty and can be expected to make every effort to respond to emergency calls, regardless of fire district boundaries. There are valid concerns about liability and the expense of engaging out-of-district fires. If lawmakers want to make a contribution, they should address those concerns. But simply mandating that tax-supported fire districts ignore district boundaries is the wrong way to go.

We agree with those local fire officials who attended the November meeting and later expressed some misgivings about simply mandating that firefighters respond outside their districts, without allowing for concerns about cost and liability.

“I’m not in favor of a mandate that says we’ll fight fires in no man’s land no matter what,” Dave LaFave, chief of Cowlitz 2 Fire & Rescue, told Daily News reporter Barbara LaBoe. “Because that puts all the burden on the folks (within the district) who are providing for all the service. The folks who live in no man’s land are basically gambling they don’t need service, but if they do then we’re called.”

Eric Koreis, chief of Castle Rock’s Fire District 6, told LaBoe that he could “understand legislation that directs people not to stand by when they see an emergency happening. But at the same time,” he added, “I think it’s a good opportunity to work on funding and the legality of the issues to keep it fair to people who live within the fire districts.”

Exactly. No one would advocate standing down in an emergency. But there must be some incentive for landowners to allow themselves to be annexed into a fire district or create their own fire district. Simply mandating away fire district boundaries is a very quick fix that, in reality, is no fix at all.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.