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Chiropractor challenges longtime incumbent for Spokane County Fire District 9 commissioner

Oct. 7, 2021 Updated Thu., Oct. 14, 2021 at 3:37 p.m.

The Spokane County Fire District 9 commissioner race features an incumbent with 14 years on the commission and a chiropractor who says “it’s time for a change in leadership.”

Michael Atwood joined the Fire District 9 commission in 2007, but his service to the district as a volunteer firefighter and EMT stretches back to 1972. He said the district, which borders the city of Spokane to the north, has undergone several improvements over the years, especially during his tenure as commissioner.

He said he takes pride in the district’s stable financial status and its hiring of several full-time firefighters and paramedics in recent years. Atwood said the district is looking to hire more firefighters in the next two years.

He said its facilities and response times are in good shape, and its equipment is “fairly new.”

“Everything I think that I’ve been involved in has been a positive effort, and with my fellow commissioners, I think we’ve all done a good job of making sure the taxpayer gets the biggest bang for their buck,” Atwood said.

Brian Mather said he is running for the position because a large number of District 9 firefighters, including some who are his chiropractic patients, have asked him over the past decade to run.

“I think that there’s some challenges in the current administration with the fire district in having successful communication and they would really like to see a fire commissioner that could become that sort of conduit of communication,” Mather said. “There’s not a lot of collaboration between the administration and the labor side in our fire district currently, and I think that when you sit down and you visit with many of the firefighters that are on the job, there’s some job dissatisfaction. There’s definitely a level where they question the leadership style.”

He said the dissatisfaction is a result of some firefighters believing commissioners are not listening to them.

“I think there’s a sense that they feel like some of the things that they try to do or try to create are not necessarily taken very seriously and they’re pretty much frustrated with their lack of being able to collaborate and to incorporate some of the things that they think would make the citizens that they protect have a better experience,” Mather said.

While Mather said it is a “strong contingent” of firefighters who are unhappy with leadership, Atwood said it’s more around eight to 10 firefighters.

“They’re wanting to get in and get more say in how the district’s operating and run,” Atwood said. “And a lot of that, they just can’t have. That’s just the way it is.”

Atwood said one example is how some firefighters say a rescue task force should be implemented sooner.

Working alongside police, firefighters in the task force would be trained, for example, to rescue people in an active shooter event at a school, Atwood said.

He said he wants to make sure other agencies, like the Spokane and Spokane Valley fire departments and Spokane Police Department, are on the same page before the rescue task force is launched.

“That’s part of their heartburn, I guess you could say,” Atwood said.

Meanwhile, some area firefighters and paramedics may lose their jobs this month if they fail to follow the provisions of Gov. Jay Inslee’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Firefighters are included in the mandate if they are licensed by the state as an EMT or paramedic or whenever they perform medical functions.

They must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 as a condition of employment. Certain religious and medical exemptions are allowed, but accommodations must be made for those exemptions. Some fire departments are claiming accommodations cannot be made.

“My position on it is I don’t want to get rid of any of our guys,” Atwood said. “They’re all very dedicated, knowledgeable, highly trained and we’re doing everything we can to circumvent that if we can. It’s a bad deal. Let’s face it.”

Atwood said the mandate needs to be adjusted, noting firefighters know how to protect themselves from the virus. He said each fire agency should be able to decide how to confront COVID-19.

Mather said Inslee’s mandate is government overreach.

“I don’t know that you achieve your final goal by losing a percentage of your workforce,” Mather said.

If elected, Atwood said he anticipates the six-year term will be his last.

“I just want things to go status quo, and the problem with my opponent is he has zero experience in the fire service,” he said. “I think he’s a nice guy. I’ve met him but I just have questions as to whether or not he would make the right decisions.”

Mather said it’s not necessary to have firefighting experience because the commissioner position involves managing a budget, communicating and decision making.

Mather is endorsed by the unions of Spokane County Fire District 9, Spokane Firefighters and Spokane Valley Firefighters.

Atwood is endorsed by the Spokane County Republican Party.

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