Spokane County Fire District 5 Commissioner Isla Durheim and challenger Ed Marston both have deep roots in the district. They even rode the same school bus together as children.
Durheim lives only a mile from the home where she grew up on West Four Mound Road. “That’s why the fire district is so important to us,” she said. “It’s part of our life.”
At one time her husband and two of her sons were volunteer firefighters with the district. Her husband was with the district for more than 25 years. Durheim said the district is somewhat unusual because there is no school or incorporated town inside its boundaries. “It’s a small district,” she said. “It just feels like a community.”
Durheim said she first really learned about the work firefighters do during firestorm in 1991, when her husband and sons were on the front lines of wildfires that consumed large swaths of Spokane County. She and the wives of other firefighters would bring them food as they worked for long hours.
“I think that’s what really got me into what firemen did and how exhausted they got,” she said.
She graduated from Reardan High School in 1970 and then left for a computer school in Kansas City, Missouri. Those were the days of computer punch cards and Durheim had to take and pass a correspondence course in order to gain admission. After several months there, Durheim returned to attend the Computer Programming Center of Spokane.
After she graduated in 1971 she took a job with Pack River Lumber doing payroll and invoices. The company was sold several times and then shut down in 1994 when Durheim was working as the payroll supervisor. She went back to school at Interface Computer School for a year, then worked for Principal Financial Group as a retirement specialist for 15 years before she retired in 2010.
Marston grew up in the district and north of Reardan, where his family owned a wheat farm. “I was just a farm kid,” he said.
He graduated from Reardan High School in 1980 and began taking classes in the law enforcement program at Spokane Community College. He didn’t finish the program, opting to join the Army and become a military policeman instead. He served for three years before moving to Alaska, where he worked as a seasonal firefighter for the Bureau of Land Management for two years and then worked for the State of Alaska for several years.
He moved back to the Spokane area in 1990 and became an apprentice millwright. “Somebody told me about being a millwright and I thought ‘I can do that,’ “ he said. “We’re basically industrial mechanics.”
He now works for Millwrights Local 96 in Spokane. “I’ve worked my way up from apprentice to business agent,” he said.
Marston said he doesn’t have any prior elected experience, but believes the priorities of a fire commissioner should be the same priorities that any leader has. “Your first priority should be the safety of firefighters,” he said. “The second should be life and the third property.”
He said he decided to run for commissioners after a couple of neighbors asked him to. “I thought about it for a while,” he said. “I haven’t really given anything back to the community I was raised in.”
Marston said he has neighbors and cousins who are volunteer firefighters with the district. He said he believes the community’s concerns aren’t being listened to by the current commissioners. “While they’re trying to do a good job as best they can, I don’t think they’re really listening to the community,” he said.
If he’s elected he wants to send out a community survey to ask residents what their needs and concerns are, Marston said.
Durheim was appointed to the fire district board of commissioners in 2012 to fill a vacant seat and then was elected to a six-year term. She said the all-volunteer district has a small budget, which makes it challenging to purchase needed equipment. “It’s just updating stuff because the prices are so high,” she said. “The equipment just ages.”
The district has been able to put some money aside for equipment upgrades in recent years, Durheim said. “We do get a lot of grants to help pay for things,” she said.
Durheim said the district also has the same challenge other small volunteer districts do – attracting volunteer firefighters.
Marston said he believes people need to be held accountable when they sign up to be volunteers and the district pays to train them. He said he thinks too few volunteers show up to calls. “You spend a lot of money on volunteer training,” he said. “We need to have as many people as possible show up. If you only show up to one or two emergencies a year, is that really being held accountable to the community for the money spent on training?”
There has been a push in recent years to put in a small station near Four Mound and Coulee Hite Road to add to the district’s two existing stations, which Durheim supports. It likely would be a small garage and volunteers who live near the location could respond from there, she said.
Marston said he likes the idea of another station but isn’t sure if the district can afford it. “That’s always been a point of contention,” he said. “I think the people in that area deserve a fire station. The thing is, is it financially viable to do?”
Durheim said she wants to continue her work to improve the district. “That’s why I’m running again,” she said. “I feel like we’ve done a good job managing our district budget.”
She also has the experience necessary to do the job, Durheim said. “I’ve been in it for several years,” she said. “I feel we’ve done a good job.”
Marston said he ran against Durheim because her position was the only one on the ballot. “I don’t think she did a bad job,” he said. “Maybe it’s just time for a change. I’ll put as much work back into the community as I can. I will listen to the community.”
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