Merged fire services in Arlington proposed

ARLINGTON — Experts are recommending that three north Snohomish County fire departments join forces to save money.

Instead of going it alone, the Arlington Fire Department, Silvana Fire District 19 and Arlington Rural Fire District 21 should consider forming a regional fire authority, according to a $76,000 study released Thursday.

The move could benefit the jurisdictions financially in the long run, said officials with the Portland-based Emergency Services Consulting International, the organization commissioned to do the study.

Many other fire departments, fire districts and emergency services organizations around the country have combined efforts to reduce costs, eliminate duplication of services and increase firefighting capabilities, said Don Bivins of the consulting firm.

Most recently, Stanwood joined the North County Regional Fire Authority in 2012. Similar agreements and discussions also have taken place in south county, where cities and fire departments spent years discussing a potential regional fire authority plan before the talks fell through earlier this year.

The study in north county showed that local fire districts and the Arlington Fire Department also might want to consider consolidating training efforts, equipment and volunteer services.

Currently, the only combination that seems to benefit any of the districts financially is the Arlington, Silvana and rural Arlington recommendation, Bivins said.

Nevertheless, the study recommends that North County Regional Fire Authority and Camano Island Fire and Rescue should look for ways to consolidate in the future, as should Darrington Fire District 24 and Oso Fire District 25. Another idea proposed in the study is that North County Fire might want to annex Tulalip’s fire department and Silvana District 19.

The study found that all fire districts in north Snohomish County need each other, but that all are protective of their territory and authority.

“Fear of combining forces is a normal reaction,” Bivins said. “However, the depth of this feeling in north Snohomish County was surprising.”

Arlington City Councilwoman Marilyn Oertle said she likes the recommendations made by the study.

“There is a lot of potential there,” Oertle said. “We need to do the right thing for the taxpayer.”

However, “the devil is in the details,” said Arlington Mayor Barb Tolbert.

“With this study, we got a lot of good information and I appreciate that it was clear that a regional fire authority could be beneficial,” Tolbert said. “But we are dealing with big concepts and it’s really very complex. We have a lot of work to do.”

Reporter Rikki King contributed to this story.

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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