Coming Together to Improve Emergency Services

Photos by Bill Vallance

by Bill Vallance

In 2005, three small struggling fire districts came together to help increase their effectiveness, services and co-operability by merging and becoming one. Douglas County Fire Districts #6 and #7 merged with Okanogan County Fire District #5 forming the new Douglas/Okanogan County Fire District #15 (DOCFD#15). The merger consolidated fire service governance and finances.

Okanogan County Fire District #5 brought both fire operations and an ambulance service along with them to the merger. Emergency medical services (EMS) was a major concern during the merger process. Neither of the Douglas County fire districts involved in the merger had EMS, and only the old District #7 had any fire operations. Douglas County Fire District #6 contracted previously with Okanogan County Fire District #5 for fire and EMS.

Fire District #15 serves a population of 4,800 people within an approximate 230 square mile radius surrounding the cities of Brewster, Pateros, Bridgeport and Methow. The District relies solely on volunteers to serve the residences and businesses of southern Okanogan County and northern Douglas County.

The process of merging came in 2005 with meetings featuring the Board of Commissioners from each of the merging Fire Districts. After the three boards approved resolutions to put the merger proposal on ballot, it was up to the residents of each district. The vote in favor was overwhelming. That was the easy part.

The newly formed DOCFD#15 was born with new challenges to face. The new Board of Commissioners for District #15 was a conglomerate of the three, now extinct former boards--nine commissioners with different views, different ideas, and many new faces. In addition to adapting to a larger board of commissioners, DOCFD#15 had to adapt to a larger response area and a larger budget. This merger was different than most because it involved two separate counties. It was challenging to get the monies from one county transferred to the other county and then into Fire District #15 budget. Also, two different counties meant two different 911 dispatch agencies, yet another challenge.

DOCFD#15 has faced and met these and other challenges in the last few years. Although there are many yet to conquer, the commissioners, secretary, administrators, fire chiefs and volunteers have worked together to improve the emergency services of the area they now serve.

DOCFD#15 proudly serves with four paid Emergency Medical Technician-Intermediates (EMT-Is), a fire administrator/EMT and over 60 fire and EMS volunteers responding to emergencies 24/7 from five different stations located within the District. The success of Fire District #15 to enhance the emergency service to those areas that had little or no service prior to the merger is largely the result of fire and EMS volunteers who have been willing to expand their response area and stand behind the decisions of the commissioners and voting public.

Bill Vallance is Administrator of Douglas/Okanogan County Fire District #15.