BELLINGHAM - By next month the chief of the Bellingham Fire Department will be the chief of Whatcom County Fire District 8, under a new agreement between the two agencies.
The Bellingham City Council approved the new contract last week, in a 6-0 vote, moving a step closer to a unified fire department for Bellingham, Marietta and the Lummi Reservation.
The retirement of former Fire District 8 Chief Dean Whitney at the end of last year left budget writers in the district thinking of ways to cut administrative costs. The new contract does that, said district commissioner Roger Buswell.
Here are a few of the terms:
- Bellingham's fire chief will prepare budgets and oversee finances for both departments.
- For matters related to Marietta and the Lummi Reservation, the fire chief takes direction from the district's board of commissioners.
- The assistant chief of Fire District 8, Bill Hewett, becomes a city employee. About $146,000 in taxpayer money from the district will be transferred to the city. That's enough to cover Hewett's salary and benefits.
- The city's fire chief officers will help oversee crew scheduling, recruiting and planning. They will "ensure District 8 continues to provide the same level of service as currently provided."
The contract hints at few, if any, changes on the immediate horizon for volunteer firefighters in District 8. Most volunteers are "on board" with the agreement, Buswell said.
Bellingham Fire Chief Roger Christensen hopes a tighter relationship with the city brings some positive things to District 8: more funding for street-level service, better access to training and improved vehicle maintenance.
In the past, firefighters from both districts have responded to 911 calls on the outskirts of the jurisdictions. Ultimately, the two agencies likely will unify, Christensen said.
"It's easier to do it slowly and incrementally," he said, "rather than waiting for the inevitable."
The new contract goes into effect Feb. 1.
Click here to read a copy of the contract.