Big changes are coming to Spokane County Fire District 3, and two fire commissioner candidates plan to navigate those changes in different ways.
Incumbent Sharon Colby, who has been a fire commissioner for nearly three decades, hopes to use her knowledge of the district to help manage an expanding service area smoothly.
Former District 3 firefighter Michael Heiydt, who was born in Spokane and has spent most of his life in Cheney, has deep roots in the community and wants to give back by running for commissioner.
Heiydt acknowledges that changes are coming to the district and hopes to shape the response to that growth, he said.
“I feel like everybody should be involved in their community, and this is a type of community service for me, helping guide the fire service,” Heiydt said.
Fire District 3 has gone through major changes since the August primary, which saw passage of both Proposition 1, which allowed for the annexation of Medical Lake into the fire district, and Proposition 2, a levy lid lift, passed.
Fire District 3 took over serving the Medical Lake community as soon as the election was certified, and Colby said service has already improved in the area.
“The people that we’ve heard from in Medical Lake seem happy,” Colby said.
Before the annexation, one in four Medical Lake calls went unanswered by the cty’s fire department.
“That has already been fixed,” said Fire District 3 Chief Cody Rohrback. “We are responding to 100% of the calls.”
Almost every volunteer firefighter from Medical Lake moved over to Fire District 3, and former Medical Lake Chief Jason Mayfield is now the captain of the Medical Lake station.
“We can provide very timely service to the town of Medical Lake,” Colby said. “We are going to lease the present fire station, but we have plans to remodel it.”
Heiydt was on the fence about the annexation of Medical Lake ahead of the August primary and said that he district was “picking up a lot of the slack.”
Heiydt declined to comment on the change after Proposition 1 passed.
When it comes to Proposition 2, a levy lid lift from from $1.41 to $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value, Rohrback is happy voters approved the change.
“Obviously we’re very excited because our growth out in the West Plains has increased tremendously at an exponential rate,” Rohrback said. “That’s going to give us the opportunity to keep up with the growth.”
Heiydt was “wholeheartedly against” the levy lid lift earlier this summer.
“The budget has grown each year for the last several years,” Heiydt said.
Colby was supportive of the levy lid lift and ties its passage to the transparency and good service the district provides, she said.
“We’ve tried to explain to the citizens why the levy lid lift is necessary every few years,” Colby said.
With budget season starting in early October, transparency is important to Colby.
“We’re going to be super careful that we keep track of every dollar and spend it in the right place,” she said. “We try to be very open and honest with our citizens because a lot of our citizens are our firefighters.”
Heiydt has been critical of the district’s transparency. He asked for the annual budget to be put online and said “they gave me the bureaucratic runaround.”
When it comes to budgeting, Heiydt said his goal would be to “continue the maintaining of a balanced budget in the district.”
The fire district also received a $2 million Staffing For Adequate Fire And Emergency Response, or SAFER, grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The grant lasts three years and will allow the district to hire 11 more full-time firefighters.
The new hires already were planned before the SAFER grant was awarded, Colby said.
“I had insisted that if we were going to hire a bunch of new people, which we already had in our sights, that the chief and the staff had to show me that we were going to have the money to budget that – even if the (grant) money didn’t come through,” Colby said.
With the grant money, there is more room in the budget for other things that often come up, she added.
“That’s going to help our community’s tax dollars go as far as possible,” Rohrback said.
The grant will cover the entire need for full-time firefighters in the district.
“That happens to be the exact amount that we foresaw last year when we wrote the grant,” Rohrback said. “So it’s right-sized for our needs.”
The new full-time firefighters will work side by side with the over 130 volunteers that work at District 3 stations.
“Next year, our district is celebrating its 75th anniversary since its inception,” Colby said. “During all that time, our district has relied on volunteers. It takes a certain amount of tact and goodwill and a whole lot of things to suddenly say, ‘Well, now we’re going to have full-time firefighters.’”
Fire District 3, established in 1945, serves 565 square miles and approximately 25,000 residents.
The district is governed by a board of three commissioners who serve six-year terms. The board meets monthly and manages personnel and budgeting for the district.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.