Deadline on RFD1 fire agreement moved to end of month
Last updated 7/15/2021 at 11:03am
Editor’s note: this version corrects that a proposal sent by Rural Fire District 1 to The City of Havre has not been brought before Havre City Council.
At a meeting of the Rural Fire District 1 Board Tuesday, the board was granted an extension by Havre Mayor Tim Solomon through the end of July to sign a new fire suppression agreement with the city.
Rural Fire District 1 is essentially a ring around Havre in which the Havre Fire Department previously provided fire suppression services.
The board and the city failed to reach a new agreement by the original July 1 deadline, leaving Rural Fire District 1 unprotected, at least on paper. After the deadline passed, Solomon gave an extension which would have run out July 15. That now is extended to the end of the month.
Community member Arleen Rice told the board she has a home and oerates a chemical facility in the district. She expressed concerns to the board regarding insurance costs without a fire suppression agreement in place.
“I am not comfortable going one day past the 15th without some kind of working agreement here. and I do not want to see this can kicked down the road. We gotta be big people here and come to an agreement,” Rice said.
Solomon told district board chair Steve Jamruszka Tuesday he had already been given two weeks.
When Jamruszka said he received no notice of this, Solomon said Jamruszka was notified at a previous meeting.
When the board later asked for more time, indicating the situation couldn’t be resolved in two days, Solomon gave them until the end of July.
Board member Courtney Tait had asked Solomon for a year.
Solomon said the previous agreement only concerned fire suppression and not fire code enforcement.
“I know your concern went up the line. It’s been resolved. And it’s coming back down. My statement is, the system works. What’s changed?” Jamruszka asked.
Solomon said it hasn’t worked and discussed specific buildings that aren’t meeting fire codes.
“If the Havre Fire Department for 50-some years has been covering all this and you have these issues with the building codes and stuff, why hasn’t somebody from the Havre Fire Department got ahold of somebody at the Department of Labor and the fire marshal and said, ‘Look, this is our problem, you guys take care of it?” Tait asked.
Solomon said the fire department has done so, adding the city has asked the state to come in but that no one in the fire district has backed it up.
Solomon told the board the situation could be resolved if the board would name someone, whomever the board wants, to be in charge of code enforcement and sign a new agreement.
Jamruszka and Tait disagreed with Solomon, saying the matter wasn’t as simple as naming a person to be in charge but that person had to be trained by the state and then approved by the Department of Labor, the health department and the fire marshal needed to be involved.
“There’s a lot of ramifications in what (Solomon’s) asking for. Liability is ability one, expense is another. Really, what he’s asking for is a whole ’nother layer of county government and the ramifications of everything involved in that need to be explored,” Jamruszka said.
“From day one, we have asked for an extension to be able to explore these options to clarify what we can or can’t do. That’s what the whole issue has been. We submitted the contract to them and it did have a memo of understanding,” he added.
Jamruszka said he wasn’t sure what the process was for the city but he would have thought the contract he submitted to Solomon’s office after the board’s June 8 meeting would have made its way to Havre City Council.
Solomon said June 28 that the proposed agreement Jamruszka sent to his office after the June 8 meeting didn’t address the city’s concerns, saying it wasn’t even a consideration.
He said Tuesday that the fact the contract still does not address the city’s concerns as the reason the proposal has not been brought to the council. Adding to why this has not been brought to the council, Solomon mentioned the fact the city gave a counter-contract.
Hi-Line Law, which represents the city, Hill County Attorney Karen Alley and the Montana Attorney General’s Office had not responded by print deadline this morning to requests for comment on whether the fire district can enforce fire codes.
Havre Daily News also requested a copy of a proposed agreement the city sent to Rural Fire District 1, but had not received a copy of the proposal by printing deadline this morning.
Solomon and Havre Fire Chief Mel Paulson previously said the Havre Fire Department still would respond to fires in the district if the agreement lapsed, but would then bill the district directly rather than operating under the agreement.
As of Tuesday’s meeting, that no longer appears to be the case.
“At some point, it’s our liability going out into someone else’s area without even being invited. So it’s up to this board,” Solomon said.
Jamruszka asked Solomon if he was indicating there would be no response by the Havre Fire Department in the event of a fire in the district.
“You have control of fire district No. 1, so I don’t know if we’ll be invited out there or not or if you’re gonna find a private contractor or create your own department. I don’t know. That’s for you guys to make the decision,” Solomon said.
Jamruszka said the board is exploring options if the Havre Fire Department does not respond to fires in the district.
Jamruszka said former board chairman Bob Jacobson and former secretary Allen LaBuda are now being considered for removal from the Rural Fire District 1 board after missing multiple consecutive meetings.
Jamruszka said he is going to draft a letter concerning their removal.
The next Rural Fire District 1 board meeting will be Aug. 10 at 11 a.m. in the Timmons Room of the Hill County Courthouse.