April 13, 2013 in Washington Voices

Newman Lake fire needs help

Volunteers may cover retired deputy’s duties
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Newman Lake Fire and Rescue is looking at low cost ways to replace a deputy chief, partly with volunteers.

During a meeting this week, fire district commissioners discussed how to cover the duties formerly done by Deputy Chief Kathie Neu, who has retired. The district has had four paid people on staff: the fire chief, two deputy chiefs and a secretary. The firefighters are all volunteers.

Taking over Neu’s regular duties, such as arranging annual pump testing and submitting water usage logs, will add a few hours of work a month for Fire Chief Keith Yamane and Deputy Chief Toni Halloran. “That doesn’t seem like a huge amount,” said Commissioner Eileen Weyrauch.

“The reality is, until we do it for a while, we won’t know the effects,” Yamane said.

Where the district will need help is with staffing. Yamane says he tries to have two paid staff members on duty during the day on weekdays when most volunteers are at work, but that doesn’t always happen due to meetings, illnesses and vacations. Halloran is on salary for 20 hours a week but often works more without extra compensation, Yamane said.

The best option seems to be to hire short-term help for special projects and ask volunteer firefighters to sign up for four-hour shifts to help with weekday staffing, Yamane said. “Then we would have two people to respond,” he said.

Usually volunteers respond to calls from work or home, but in this case the volunteers would spend the shift at Station 1 and also be available to help with cleaning, washing the trucks and other tasks, he said. Right now Yamane and Halloran clean the stations. “This is the most expensive janitor I know,” said Commissioner Kathleen Small of Yamane.

The exact details remain to be worked out, but the volunteers would receive a small per diem for each shift they sign up for. “I don’t know about Toni, but I need help,” Yamane said.

Yamane said he did consider hiring a full-time firefighter. “I don’t think with our budget and our call load we can justify that,” he said.

The department needs to have two people available to respond during the day, Weyrauch said, but the volunteers would need to have clear responsibilities. “I would really not be happy to come in and see them channel surfing,” she said.

Small said she agreed that the volunteer shifts and extra project help are needed. “This needs to be fleshed out,” she said. “Thank you for looking at it in a different way and coming up with ideas.”

The commissioners’ next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday at Station 1, 10236 N. West Newman Lake Drive.


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