A one-term incumbent Spokane Valley Fire commissioner is hoping to retain his seat, as a former city councilman and a first-time candidate challenge him.
The Spokane Valley Fire Commission is a five-member board that oversees a $37.5 million fire department budget and about 200 employees. The Spokane Valley Fire Department serves about 75 square miles and includes Spokane Valley, Liberty Lake, Millwood, Otis Orchards and Pasadena Park, as well as other unincorporated areas of Spokane County.
Fire commissioners are paid about $12,200 a year. Local 876, the Spokane Valley Firefighters Union, has not yet endorsed a candidate. George Hedebeck, vice president of the union, said it would start interviewing candidates after the primary.
Patrick Burch, 56, is an incumbent fire commissioner who was appointed in 2016 and won an election to retain his seat in 2017. Burch previously worked at Boeing as a financial controller and worked as quality engineer for Advanced Input Devices for 12 years. He has been the chairman of the Spokane Valley Fire Commission for two years and hopes to continue the work the board has done to improve insurance ratings.
“I think we have a great team,” he said. “We’re working well together and I would like to keep that momentum going forward.”
Burch said commissioners don’t necessarily need firefighting experience to lead, because one of the top priorities of the fire commission is building a strong budget and it doesn’t supervise the department’s day-to-day operations.
Randall Bean, 54, a former firefighter and Life Flight paramedic, is challenging Burch. Bean said he hopes to improve communication and believes his paramedic experience and eight years on the Deer Park City Council give him the tools to lead as a fire commissioner. Bean said if leaders at the Spokane Valley Fire Department had communicated with staff better, it may have avoided some of the lawsuits it has faced over the past several years, such as when a firefighter sued the department after he was fired over religious emails.
“I think it could have been avoided with better communication, throughout the whole process,” he said.
The Spokane Valley Fire Department’s insurance company agreed to pay $900,000 to a captain fired in 2012 for what the department said was insubordination related to him sending religious emails to his Spokane Christian Firefighters Fellowship group and posting on the department’s bulletin board.
Bradley Mertens, 38, a challenger who also hopes to improve communication in the fire department, said he’d like to sit down with the fire chief and with firefighters, to hear from people who do the job every day,. He said firefighters from within the department asked him to run and that sometimes firefighters think leadership doesn’t take their input into account when making decisions.
“It’s technically their right,” he said, “but I don’t know if that’s necessarily a good working relationship.”
Mertens, who grew up in Spokane Valley, said he’s worked at fire departments across the country because his wife, who is in the Army, often was required to move. After some time in California, he moved back to Spokane Valley in 2015 and works as a firefighter and paramedic for Fire District 8.
The factbox in this article was changed on July 29 to correct the number of years Randall Bean was on the Deer Park Ambulance Board and Spokane County EMS Board.
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