Seven of the 12 fire districts under Pottawatomie County jurisdiction were consolidated into a single district Monday, following a public hearing before the county commission.
Commissioners adopted a resolution establishing Consolidated Fire District No. 1, which brings seven districts comprising 47 percent of the county’s land mass under one umbrella.
Joining the new fire district are District 6, Olsburg; District 4, Wheaton; District 2, Havensville’ District 8, Emmett; District 1, St. Marys; District 7, Wamego Township; and District 10, St. George. County officials hope the five remaining fire districts will join the consolidation in the future: Blue Township, Louisville, Belvue, Onaga and 7 Township Westmoreland, the largest of the county’s rural fire districts.
Consolidating fire districts has been a key goal of commissioners since Bruce Brazzle was named county fire supervisor in 2008.
“I kind of drug my feet on it (consolidation) at first, but it just makes sense to save money,” said Commissioner Stan Hartwich.
Commissioners Pat Weixelman and Gary Yenzer agreed consolidation will introduce efficiencies and cost savings into fire protection efforts in the county.
“All in all I think it’s going to be a better fit for everybody,” Weixelman told a number of fire chiefs and firefighters at the hearing. “I think you’ve given up a little bit, but I think you’re going to receive a little bit, too. I’ll stand behind everything we can do to make this work.”
Benefits of the consolidation, as outlined by county administrator Robert Reese, include: planned purchasing for seven stations; greater training opportunities between stations; efficient management structure; long range operating and capital planning; standardized equipment; elimination of duplicate equipment purchases; and reassessment of Firefighters Relief Association benefits and ISO insurance ratings for property owners.
“There’s a lot of thanks that need to go out over this,” Reese told commissioners.
“Bruce has been talking with fire chiefs and fire boards and your county counselor (John Watt) has made sure we’re doing things correctly.”
The newly consolidated fire district will operate under a single budget and a single tax levy, Reese said.
The levy required to replicate what the seven districts had for 2013 would have been .7 of a mill — considerably lower than the current average fire district levy, he said.
Fire chiefs from Wheaton, Olsburg, St. George and Havensville lent their support to the consolidation at Monday’s hearing. George Gier, Wheaton fire chief, said the move will benefit smaller fire districts both financially and in mutual aid on larger fires.
“Wheaton’s on board and we’re real excited,” Gier said.
Doug Griffitt, chief of St. George District 10, said the biggest benefits will be standardized equipment countywide and combined training among districts.
“On a scene, that’s huge and in training that’s huge,” Griffitt said.
The next steps in the consolidation process include creating a 2014 operating and capital budget; establishing and defining responsibilities of a fire advisory board for the new district; updating agreements with St. Marys and Louisville for 2014; and completing research for Louisville to join the district in 2015.