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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Orr faces Freier in race for Spokane Valley fire commission

Two career firefighters are running for a seat on the board that oversees the Spokane Valley Fire Department.

The Spokane Valley Fire Department serves the city of Spokane Valley, Liberty Lake, Millwood and parts of unincorporated Spokane County. While Chief Frank Soto Jr. manages the department’s day-to-day operations and 220 employees, a five-member board of elected commissioners looks after the agency’s roughly $57 million annual budget.

Rick Freier and George Orr, both of whom spent decades as Spokane Valley firefighters, are competing to become the newest member of the fire commission. The winner of the general election this November will replace incumbent Bill Anderson, who isn’t seeking re-election.

It doesn’t look like either Orr or Freier will do much mudslinging over the next few months.

“We’re both firefighters,” Orr said. “We both have friends in the service. I don’t think we’re mad at each other.”

Freier, 52, will head into the November election as the frontrunner. He won 55% of the vote in the primary election, compared to 23% for Orr and 22% for former Spokane Valley Mayor Diana Wilhite.

After 24 years with the fire department, Freier retired this spring after a bout with skin cancer. He’s now cancer free, but has been advised by his doctor to stop firefighting.

Freier spent much of his career as an investigator, uncovering the causes of fires. He was also the handler of Mako, the arson dog, and frequently gave safety talks in schools.

If elected, Freier would focus on improving public education. He said the department could do more to teach seniors about fall prevention and teenagers about fire and driving safety.

“I want to do this for the right reasons, and that’s to prevent somebody from having a really awful day,” Freier said.

Freier said the Spokane Valley Fire Department could also place a greater emphasis on wildland fire training. While most fires within the district are urban, the agency also assists nearby fire departments with rural burns.

Orr, 80, spent more than 30 years as a Spokane Valley firefighter, starting in the 1970s.

He’s best known as a former state lawmaker, after representing the Spokane Valley in Olympia in the early- to mid-1990s. No Democrat has won a Valley legislative seat since Orr left office.

Unlike Freier, Orr doesn’t have many specific policies he’d like to implement if elected. He’s touting his experience as a former state representative and school board member.

“It’s not my first rodeo,” he said.

Orr’s main complaint with the current fire commissioners is their record of chief selection.

“The fire commissioners for the past 10 years have hired people who are not from this state as chiefs,” Orr said. “They’re not from this community.”

The fire department should make a greater effort to promote future chiefs from within the agency, Orr said.

Orr and Freier have received donations from the Spokane Valley firefighters union.

Freier has the Spokane County Grand Old Party’s endorsement, while Orr has gotten funding from the Democratic Party’s political action committee for the 4th Legislative District.

Orr moved to Liberty Lake in March, after living in Spokane. He would be eligible to hold office as a fire commissioner.