The Public Safety Commission on Monday tried to come up with ways to boost the rating of the Klehini Valley Fire Department. The fire department’s score was downgraded to a 10, the lowest possible rating. The result is higher fire insurance rates for residents living in the Fire District 3.
The rating given by the Insurance Services Office is based on things like access to water, equipment, and the number of trained volunteers. Those are all areas that Klehini department is struggling with. The downgrade happened two years ago, but residents were only made aware in recent months when insurance rates shot up.
In a letter sent to the borough and the Public Safety Commission in August, Highway residents Rich and Judy Tolles asked the borough and commission to address the problem. Mardell Gunn, who lives at 38.5 Mile, also sent a letter asking what can be done to bring dependable fire service to highway residents.
Commission chair Jim Stanford said at the meeting they need to re-establish water sources, and energize locals to get trained and volunteer.
“Klehini Valley was an eight, they went to a 10, which is the worst. Which effectively means they have very minimal capabilities of fighting a fire,” Standford said. “How do figure out how to deal with this situation without making it look like we’re complaining about the volunteers? It’s a tough situation.”
If Upper Valley residents had to rely on the fire trucks from Haines rather than the Klehini department, it could mean the difference between losing their home or not.
Residents in the highway fire service area pay a mil rate of .90, which equates to $90 in taxes for every $100,000 in property value. According to the borough, that means about $32,000 a year is paid for fire services. Additional money was included in the borough’s FY16 budget to the tune of about $45,000 to help pay for needed equipment.
As for training, local fire fighter and trained instructor Jenn Walsh said the last time the needed level of instruction was offered in Haines was 2004. She said she’s been pushing for the course to happen.
“A lot of our firefighters in town are incredibly excited to take the Fire Fighter 1. They want it to happen and I have sent a budget to the fire chief and it outlined the cost.”
Walsh said between the fire fighter training and prerequisites, the course winds up being about 220 hours. But, she added, that’s something that can be stretched out over nights and weekends.
“I think that you’re going to see a spike in people joining the fire department when they know that they have the tools.”
Borough manager Dave Sosa said that it would be most helpful for the commission to meet with the Klehini fire department’s board of trustees. The board is made of up Robert Venables, Jerry Lapp and former Klehini fire chief Sean McLaughin.
The commission passed a motion to meet with Klehini fire chief Robert Clay and the board of trustees to get more information on the situation and come up with a plan.
The commission then discussed the next step in hiring a new a police chief. Interim chief Robert Griffiths was hired in April and is leaving next week. So far, the borough is still deciding how to go about hiring for the position. The commission discussed the merits of employing an outside firm to help in the candidate search. Four firms are on the borough’s radar for the task.
The other option is that borough staff would take on the lengthy process and save the approximately $20,000 it would cost to hire a company. If a firm is hired, they could look for a new manager at the same time, saving the borough some money with a two-for-one deal.
“Then there are additional costs associated with bringing candidates up and conducting the interviews,” Sosa said. “The process applied by each of them is very similar. What they will typically do is visit the community, they interview stakeholders associated with it.”
Sosa said stakeholders include elected officials, the Public Safety Commission and members of the general public. After finding out what the community is looking for, the hired firm would make a profile of Haines and conduct the initial interviews to narrow down the field of applicants.
“And then based on their knowledge of having visited the community, they would take their pool of applicants and narrow it down to possibly 10. And then those would be reviewed by panels from the community, a selection committee, and it would be narrowed down to the number of individuals that the community is interested in interviewing.”
From there, the results of the interview would be discussed among members of the selection committee and finally, an offer made to the best candidate.
The commission raised the concern of who will help with the hiring once Sosa himself is gone. His last day as manager is December 4. Stanford called the upcoming weeks a “period of chaos” as the borough works to hire a police chief and a manager.
The commission voted 4-1 in favor of using a consulting firm to find Haines’ next police chief.