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MailTribune.com
  • Council pours cold water on plan to unite fire districts

  • Medford city councilors on Thursday voiced strong opposition to a proposal to consolidate Medford Fire-Rescue with Fire District No. 3.
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  • Medford city councilors on Thursday voiced strong opposition to a proposal to consolidate Medford Fire-Rescue with Fire District No. 3.
    "We don't want to annex with District 3," said councilor Daniel Bunn.
    The council didn't take formal action regarding the consolidation issue Thursday, but each councilor expressed disapproval of the idea and voiced dismay at the bad feelings generated by the proposal.
    The council will likely take formal action on a series of recommendations from fire officials during an August meeting.
    Fire District No. 3 last week rejected consolidation with Medford fire but agreed to seek additional cooperation.
    The councilors also voiced support for hiring a new fire chief to replace Dave Bierwiler, who was fired in March 2013.
    The city held off hiring a new chief until the issue of consolidation is settled and instead appointed Deputy City Manager Bill Hoke as interim chief.
    According to a Medford Finance Department memo of July 11, the salary and benefits package for a new fire chief would be $195,000.
    Fire District No. 3 held off hiring a deputy chief of operations until the study was completed, but now is seeking applicants for that position.
    More cooperation between surrounding fire districts, including Fire District No. 5 and Jackson fire, was also discussed by the councilors.
    An exhaustive study of possible consolidation turned emotional over the past year, souring a 62-year relationship with Fire District No. 2, which contracts with Medford Fire-Rescue for service in a rural area to the south, east and west of the city.
    The study itself generated controversy when Fire District No. 2 was excluded from a draft version on the acknowledgement page. The preliminary study had other errors that generated complaints.
    In addition, the consolidation idea fostered suspicions and rumors among fire crews in Medford fire and Fire District No. 3.
    "How do we begin to repair those wounds?" Councilor Chris Corcoran said.
    Councilors appeared to blame themselves and the city manager's office for allowing the study to generate so much emotion and for not communicating effectively.
    "I think Eric Swanson (city manager) owes them (Fire District No. 2) an apology for not including them from day one," Councilor Dick Gordon said. "I think we (the council) owe them an apology."
    Bunn said he thought there had been problems in communication but said Fire District No. 2 officials have reacted inappropriately.
    "They've gone out of their way to be rude," he said. "They've been mean spirited."
    Brian Fish, deputy chief of operations for Medford fire, said a lot of emotions were generated because of the study.
    "We recognize as a staff that there have been some damaged relationships," he said.
    Councilor Bob Strosser said hiring a new fire chief should be one major step in improving communication between firefighters and surrounding districts.
    "The first thing we want to do is repair some of the damage," Strosser said.
    Councilors were split over whether they wanted to wait until a new fire chief was hired before approving any new cooperative service agreements with surrounding fire districts.
    After distilling three separate reports, Medford fire officials had some basic recommendations for the council.
    They suggested having a joint training program that would be similar so that firefighters from one agency would follow a similar path toward advancement.
    Upper level staff, including battalion chiefs and captains, would undergo similar leadership training and have joint ride-along programs.
    Standard operating procedures could be adopted by Medford fire and surrounding agencies.
    Training committees could be joined and processes combined for promotions, hiring and recruitment. However, many councilors said they didn't think a joint recruitment program would work, because the hiring process for firefighters is competitive.
    The fire officials suggested creating more standardized guidelines for operations, establishing a regional fire investigation plan and exploring similar public educational services.
    Fire agencies could also consolidate supply and medical purchases, they said.
    Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @reporterdm.
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