Mission accomplished, for the most part.
Spokane Regional Emergency Communications announced that its first director, Steve Reinke, will depart in September after shepherding the new agency through its launch on July 1 without the city of Spokane as a partner.
Reinke was hired last year on a short-term basis to help guide the integration of multiple agencies across the county into a single emergency communications facility, now known as SREC.
“This has been the most challenging consolidation I’ve worked on, and I’m still optimistic that it’s eventually going to come together, because it’s the right thing to do,” Reinke said.
Lori Markham, the current deputy director, has been tapped to be the center’s next executive director and will take the reins on Sept. 1.
“This is a fun challenge and, moving forward, there are a lot of great opportunities with SREC and aligning public safety (agencies),” Markham said.
She was hired in 2008 as a city of Spokane fire dispatcher at the city’s Combined Communications Center.
She was promoted in 2013 to operations manager, a position she held until 2017 when she was promoted to acting division chief.
Markham became the deputy director of SREC upon its launch on July 1.
“She has a lot of great experience and as importantly, she’s got a lot of history with the employees in the center,” said Spokane Valley Fire Chief Bryan Collins, who serves as the SREC board chairman. “These are employees that were doing the job before, so she is well-respected within the employee group.”
Contract negotiations with Markham are ongoing, according to Collins.
Before joining SREC in 2018, Reinke was the director of the Deschutes County 911 Service District in Oregon. He has consulted on or led the consolidation of emergency communications centers throughout the Northwest.
Over time, SREC leaders and board members believe the new integrated system will be more financially efficient and better positioned to adapt to new technology.
“This is the foundation for improving the future. We aren’t there yet, but now we can build toward it,” Reinke said.
From an operational standpoint, SREC launched without disruption to emergency communications countywide.
But its start came with controversy that has yet to subside. The city of Spokane is the last major holdout from joining SREC, as members of the City Council seek assurances about how city dispatchers will be treated under the new system and request more data on the purported financial benefits of the integrated center.
“Our goal is to still have full integration with the city involved, and I know the board and Lori will continue to work toward that goal and get the council to get the information they requested,” Reinke said.
To Collins, bringing the city on board is not the top priority. He said SREC is focused on getting its own operations “ironed out and running smoothly.”
“The city is always welcome and we’re willing to sit down and discuss with them any issues that they feel are outstanding,” Collins said, but he added “we’re not focusing right now on what’s going on in the city.”
Despite the council taking action to bar the city from joining SREC, so many fire dispatchers have either been laid off by Mayor David Condon – or left the job to join SREC on their own accord – that the city is largely relying on SREC to provide its fire dispatch services.
There is not a formal agreement between the city and SREC for this service, and no money has changed hands, according to Marlene Feist, a city spokesperson.
“The public service agencies, as a group, have always provided each other with support and aid at the communications level and field level,” Feist said. “We’re working under that spirit of cooperation.”
The City Council has resisted joining SREC until it receives clarity on the impact the new system will have on the quality of emergency communications service in the city, on city employees and on city finances, according to Councilman Breean Beggs.
“For a couple years now, we keep asking for actual documentation of all of these things and essentially haven’t gotten it. We’re not going to change a system that works really well based on speculation,” Beggs said.
Spokane Firefighters Union Local 29, which represents Spokane fire dispatchers, filed a grievance letter against the city last Friday for relying on contractors to perform the duties of union employees.
The city declined to comment on the allegations within the grievance.
Proponents of the new system believe it will be more efficient and sustainable in the long run and provide better outcomes for the public.
“It’s difficult because it’s change, and people have a hard time accepting that it can be as good or better,” Reinke said. “SREC is on the path now to start to realize some of those efficiencies and the gain in performance.”
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