There’s a primary election coming up for Spokane County’s rural Fire District 10 for the first time in more than 10 years.
An open seat and growing community inspired filings from three candidates, they say.
The department itself also is undergoing major change, as Nick Scharff is retiring this fall after more than 14 years as chief and four decades working in District 10. Ken Johnson, battalion chief for the Cheney Fire Department, has been offered the job to replace him.
Two of the commissioner candidates – Gordon Hester and John Koberstine – have many years of experience working in the district. The third candidate, Kevin Haughton, grew up in the West Plains and is a lieutenant for the Spokane Fire Department.
All three candidates want to look at staffing levels for the department. The district has 11 paid employees and about 80 volunteers.
Koberstine wants to look at options for reducing the number of assistant fire chiefs in favor of more firefighters. He would like to see a paid firefighter on duty at all hours.
Koberstine became a volunteer in the district in 2009 and was hired as a full-time firefighter in 2011. He was the lieutenant for safety and maintenance until he was fired last August.
Koberstine is now suing the district for wrongful termination. He said he does not think the pending litigation would stop him from doing his job as commissioner, but a trial is set to start in Superior Court next May.
His lawsuit alleges he was retaliated against for taking medical leave to seek treatment related to alcoholism and work-induced PTSD. He also said he was fired for making complaints about the conduct of other district employees.
In the answer to his lawsuit, the fire district says his termination was due to unsatisfactory performance. The fire district’s attorney, Michelle Fossum, declined to comment further over the phone.
Koberstine said he has no vendetta against the district and wants to improve service as a commissioner.
“I had the unique opportunity of being in Fire District 10 for nine-plus years, and I know what works well and what needs improvement because of my unique observations from being on the inside,” he said.
Haughton said he would look to budgeting and scheduling in order to have a paid firefighter on duty 24/7. He also wants to see if the district could recruit volunteers who want to respond to medical calls if they aren’t interested in fighting fires.
Haughton, who is also a logistics section chief with Northwest Incident Management Team 12, has overseen wildfire crews involving up to 2,000 people while coordinating with government agencies and residents. He first became a volunteer firefighter after leaving the U.S. Army in 1992.
“I believe I’m well-rounded in the fire service as it relates to volunteer staff, career staff and even residents,” Haughton said.
Hester, who has decades of budgeting and management experience, said his priority would be increasing integration with nearby fire departments, while also looking at staffing levels to improve service to residents.
“I think there’s a real opportunity to improve the relationship with Airway Heights, Medical Lake and District 5,” he said. District 5 covers the northwest plains.
Hester is the vice president and director of commercial real estate at Kiemle Hagood and has served the fire district as a volunteer firefighter for 10 years and volunteer captain of Station 3 for five of them.
He also has board experience with the Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Spokane Partnership, among other positions.
“I have 30 years of experience with financial management and construction management, and I think that lends itself to the position,” Hester said.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.