Whenever the city of Boise builds a new fire training facility, it will cooperate with districts around the Treasure Valley, Fire Chief Dennis Doan said.
The advantages of partnering are too attractive to pass up, he said. Joining hands with other districts offers each a chance to save money while making its firefighters safer and better at their jobs.
The hard part is making a partnership work.
On Nov. 5, Boise voters struck down a bond measure that would have authorized $17 million in debt for construction of a training facility and upgrades to four fire stations. If the bond had passed, the city was prepared to build the $6.85 million facility near its sewage treatment plant in West Boise.
Now the city will try to find a new way to pay for the facility, which had broad support even among people who publicly opposed the bond. A future bond election is possible. So is a levy election.
The city also could forgo a new facility and instead put money into keeping Boises existing training tower on West Shoreline Drive functional. That wouldnt address limitations at the tower, such as the inability to practice with chemicals or lack of space for setting up a wide range of training scenarios that officials say are crucial to improving real-life response.
It could, however, buy the city enough time to hammer out an agreement with other cities and districts.
Doan said hell write a report over the next six months analyzing possible solutions. Its for his education in the National Fire Academys executive fire officer academy, but he wants to apply it to his job here in Boise.
A single facility with a central location for Valley districts is one possibility, Doan said. Having multiple smaller facilities that all agencies could use for specific types of training is another.
The most obvious place to start the process is to involve all of the interested fire agencies. That means getting Boise, Meridian, Eagle and perhaps other fire districts to agree on size, cost, location and amenities, as well as how much each entity pays.
That approach has drawbacks, Doan said.
Its hard to ask another city to pitch in on a concept, Doan said. Its hard to come with a, Yeah, I can get $1 million for you, until theres a plan laid out.
Then theres the Field of Dreams method: If you build it, they will come. In this process, Boise or another city would build a new training facility and ask the other districts and cities to help pay for it, or charge them rent.
Eagle Fire Chief Mike Winkle likes the first way better, because a facility built without everyones input might not reflect each partners needs. Eagle, for example, has different types of buildings than Boise, so firefighters train for different scenarios.
If we put the effort in, well identify those problems and then well have better solutions, he said. Theres a whole lot more buy-in if we partner on the front end versus getting told what we can access.
DEAL OF A GENERATION
Agreements between governments are always complicated. Take the joint powers agreement that emergency services agencies around Ada County signed in July. On its surface, the deal seems to be a no-brainer: It basically turns the whole county into one response district where the nearest available and capable units respond to emergencies. Sometimes, that means a medical unit from one city will take a call that originates in a neighboring city.
As Boise Mayor Dave Bieter said, the joint powers agreement is a rare government opportunity to make things better, make things faster, make things cheaper.
But it took decades of negotiating over responsibilities, liability and other details to get the contract signed.
Some might look at the time it took to finalize that deal and conclude that chances for an agreement on a joint fire training facility are slim. Boise City Council President Maryanne Jordan sees it differently. To Jordan, the fact that the joint powers deal got done is proof these kinds of agreements are possible.
Of course it was hard. But something like that should be hard, she said. It should be thoughtful, and it should be careful, and it should be difficult, and then you should get to a product in the end thats a correct response and defensible, and thats where I think we landed.
Winkle took it a step further. As hard as the joint powers agreement was, he said, it should serve as a springboard that makes it easier to form future partnerships between Ada Countys cities that save money and improve emergency services.
Weve been able as fire chiefs to set aside pride and ego and put those that pay us to be here as the priority, and thats where Im most encouraged, Winkle said. In the end run, well come up with a solution that may not look the same but will be just as beneficial, if not more, working together.
Sven Berg: 377-6275