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Fire meeting generates lively discussion

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POLSON — Opinions were expressed and voices were raised at the Polson Rural Fire District Trustees meeting on Feb. 10. 

Big Arm resident Paul Maurer gave his opinion when he spoke to the trustees before any business was conducted. Maurer’s concern was that the new fire station, a $230,000 facility, was being used as a warehouse storage facility. Maurer said he understood the Fairgrounds Fire Station was to respond to fires north of the bridge if the bridge was rendered out of service. Two suicide attempts and a wreck have caused traffic to be shut down on the bridge during the past 30 days, Maurer said. 

Maurer added that his suggestion to the trustees would be to “… challenge the chief to put the station in action in the next 30 days.”

In answer to Maurer, Trustee Fred Nelson said the trustees also had obligations to people who live on the south side of the bridge and Valley View. 

Trustee Jack Clapp said Maurer was missing the point about response.

“It’s a matter of putting crews together,” Clapp said.

Clapp explained if the response is split between the city and the fairgrounds stations, nobody could roll because there would be two firefighters here and three firefighters there and not enough at either station.

“Our obligation is to provide the best service to this community,” Clapp said.

Trustee Paul Laisy brought up the equipment at the Fairground Station and said, “We can’t pretend we have an engine here. There is no hose on this engine.”

Laisy added there was also no breathing apparatus. 

Clapp replied, “That’s what they gave us in Irvine Flats.”

Chair Alison Meslin suggested bringing one of the City of Polson’s engines over. 

Firefighter Martin Glass’ idea was to bring an engine down from the Big Arm station. Glass said the firefighters would like to use the station in the way Chief John Fairchild decides.

After more discussion, Laisy made a motion to have Fairchild recruit and train firefighters for the Fairgrounds Station. Meslin seconded the motion. 

Clapp stressed that Chief Fairchild and the board had made efforts, through a letter from the board and a letter in the paper, to recruit firemen. 

Volunteer Fireman Chris McGuinness asked if there was actually a fire company at the Fairgrounds Station.

Meslin said the paperwork had been started.

Glass asked if the board would like to form a company to report specifically to the Fairgrounds Station and was assured that was the case.  

Laisy said he understood two new volunteers wanted to respond to the Fairgrounds Station.

Clapp asked Laisy where that understanding came from since that was not Clapp’s understanding.

After more discussion, the motion was tabled to be discussed under new business.

The trustees approved the claims for January. 

During the communications portion of the meeting, Meslin reported receiving a letter from Polson Fairgrounds, Inc., the group who used to lease the land on which the fire station was built from Lake County. PFI suggested the name Fairgrounds Fire Station for the new station. The trustees moved to adopt the name.

During the treasurer’s report, Treasurer Bonnie Manicke asked the trustees to okay a lien on property holders for nonpayment of debt service. 

The trustees unanimously passed a motion to send a letter allowing a certain number of days for payment before a lien is filed.

During staff reports Chief Fairchild reported 23 runs in January. Fairchild also passed around a firefighter application for Brian Nelson to be assigned to the Polson Rural. The application was unanimously approved. 

McGuinness submitted the by-laws for the Polson Rural Fire Company for approval. 

Jeff Meslin from the Big Arm Fire Company said they would adopt the rural district’s by-laws but need a meeting to do this.

Clapp said Bonnie Manicke has had the oaths of allegiance to the Polson Rural from the firefighters. 

Chief Fairchild brought up problems with 323, nicknamed the Batmobile. The vehicle is 23 years old and has saddlebag gas tanks, which are a safety issue, Fairchild said, as well as other mechanical problems.

Fairchild suggested the trustees look at a 1-ton club cab Superduty with 23,000 miles on it belonging to the Ronan Fire Department. Ronan is asking $15,000 for the vehicle and would carry the paper with no interest for two years. 

The board decided to ask Chief Fairchild to check with Montana Metalworks about a ton and a half chassis as well as look into the government lease programs. Chief Fairchild will compile the figures in 10 days to two weeks so the board can look at them before the next meeting.

A report on the Stakeholder’s meeting generated lots of discussion, mostly on the make-up of the board. 

Meslin said the group was unbalanced, with six members obviously critical of the Polson Rural Fire Board.

Polson City Manager Todd Crossett said his intention was to see all perspectives. 

“I’m very happy to add more people to the group,” Crossett said. “… My job is to act as a referee.”

Glass said the whole idea of the stakeholders group was to put to rest animosity between city and rural, to create a forum where people could talk about issues.

Trustee Nelson made a motion to keep the Stakeholders group the way it’s going, and the motion passed.

Laisy again made a motion to require the fire chief to make it a priority to recruit and train firefighters for the Fairgrounds Fire Station. He added a request to have the fire chief track the amount of time he spends on rural district work during the next 30 days. 

After discussion and public comment the motion failed with Trustee Nelson abstaining and Trustee Clapp voting no. 

In other business, an open house for the Fairgrounds Station was scheduled for March 13 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. according to Laisy, chair of the committee.

Approving a Junior Firefighter program was continued until next month.   

Chief Fairchild presented a unified consolidated application, which he made by taking both the rural and the city applications and “pushed them together.” 

Clapp asked why the board would not consider one application since the firefighters are struggling to recruit new people.

An audience member said “You are chasing people away by having two applications.”

The issue was tabled until the next meeting. 

A motion to form a fire company for the Fairgrounds Fire Station failed. 

Alison Meslin reported on meeting with Representative Janna Taylor and asking her to present legislation, which would allow volunteer firefighters to receive $600 or less in payment without harming their pensions.

The next meeting of the Polson Rural Fire District Trustees will be held on March 10 at 7 p.m. 

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