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Firefighters hold candidate forum

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POLSON — The Polson Volunteer Fire Department, which serves both city and rural districts, held a forum for candidates seeking two spots on the Polson Rural Fire District board of trustees. Beth Hoel and Alison Meslin are running for a three-year term while Paul Laisy and Stephen Stanley vie for a one-year term. Laisy and Meslin chose not to attend the forum on April 15 at 7 p.m. in city council chambers.

The questions were submitted by firefighters, and Steve McCoy, also a fireman, moderated the hour-long question and answer session that about 20 people attended. 

When she introduced herself, Hoel said she was running for the board as a commitment from herself to the community and because of unselfish acts to her family. Hoel said three qualities firefighters have are dependability, respect and pride, and she wants to give the firefighters what they need. 

Hoel works as a Social Service Specialist at the Lake County Office of Public Assistance.

Stanley is the Coordinator for Lake County Office of Emergency Management and is the Lake County Fire Coordinator.

During his introduction, Stanley said. “I believe it’s one department … our firefighters don’t deserve to get split up.”

One question asked the candidates to describe whose responsibility it is to make operational decisions and what role the PRFD board plays in this decision making process. 

Stanley said the chief has operating concerns he has to address, and the board attempted to micromanage. There has been a tremendous amount of time spent dancing around the issues.

“If there is a problem, solve it,” Stanley said. 

Operating decisions should be made by the fire chief and the board should be supporting the chief, Hoel said, since the chief is on the front lines with the firefighters. 

Another question stated there has been concern expressed by some about the decision by the chief to utilize the Fairgrounds Station, which is located in the city, for wildland response and the existing city station for structural and rescue response. The candidates were asked about their take on this issue.

Hoel said the facilities need to be used as the chief has decided. 

“We can’t fiscally afford to split turnouts,” Hoel added.

Stanley said the Fairgrounds Station has the immediate benefits of room for training, even winter training. Great meeting rooms will be available to both the firefighters and the community. Stanley praised the Lake County Commissioners for coming up with $100,000 in gravel to build a facility the community can use.  As far how the stations are currently being used, Stanley said to do anything else would require duplicating turnout gear. 

McCoy asked a question that stated there have been discussions about doing away with the interlocal agreement and splitting the fire department into a city department and a rural department. He asked Hoel and Stanley how they felt about that and if they thought it would improve service to the rural community. 

Stanley’s response was that there are not enough volunteers to support two separate departments. The city and the rural do share equipment and that saves money Stanley said, but he added that daytime response by firefighters is always a challenge, too. The city gives the rural “some bang for their buck,” Stanley said. 

Hoel commented that she felt a split would be a detriment to the community. The firefighting team is working quite well.

Another question said the majority of the PRFD board recently voted to hire an outside consultant to review the chief’s decision on utilizing the Fairgrounds Fire Station for wildland response and the City Station for structural and rescue response and asked if they felt this was a good use of rural funds. 

Stanley said, “No, I don’t.”

Stanley’s concern was that the board was looking at hiring a consultant who had a “dysfunctional fire department.” 

We have expertise right here Stanley said and cited Bob McCrea, Manager of the Division of Fire for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes, as an example.

Hoel said she didn’t think hiring a consultant was responsible at all. 

“We have firefighters who know how to run a station, a fire chief who knows how to run a station."

Hoel and Stanley both urged  rural fire district residents to vote in the May 4 election. 

Polls hours at Linderman Gym are from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. 

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