Havre Daily News - News you can use

By Tim Leeds 

Havre ends rural fire district coverage

District board lets agreement extension lapse

 

Last updated 9/1/2021 at 12:14pm



As of midnight Tuesday, Havre Fire Department is no longer providing fire suppression to the rural fire district around the edge of Havre.

Havre Mayor Tim Solomon said this morning that the city’s attorney dealing with the issue, Tyson Parman of Hi-Line Law, received an email from the attorney representing the Rural Fire District 1 saying its board is continuing to stick with the previous agreement and will not make changes requested by the city.

“We’ve already told them that’s not acceptable to us,” Solomon said.

Hill County Commissioner Mark Peterson said this morning the county has contacted multiple fire departments, including Havre’s, requesting they cover the district as part of mutual aid agreements.

Solomon said he is not aware of the Havre Fire Department having a mutual aid agreement with Rural Fire District 1.

Parman had not responded by printing deadline to a voicemail asking for more details.

The city notified the district last year that it was canceling the coverage agreement, effective June 30, the end of the fiscal year, so a new agreement could be negotiated that included enforcement of fire codes.

Peterson said in December, when the city sent the notification letter, that he wanted to research some issues in the fire district.

The Hill County Commission later said the board was dysfunctional and not performing its duties and reshuffled the board.

A fire district is an independent governmental entity with authority over the district and is not under the supervision of the county commission.

The board was re-shuffled in March, with Steve Jamruszka and Courtney Tait appointed to fill two positions.

Tait and Jamruszka have maintained that the district should continue under the previous districts, saying the fire district does not have authority to enforce fire codes and that setting up the enforcing fire codes would be a lengthy process, requesting at least a year to do so.

The city kept granting extensions to the agreement to allow time to negotiate a new agreement.

The last extension expired Tuesday.

Solomon said that the city is not going to continue extending it because the fire district is working to address the concerns.

Rural Fire 1 basically is a ring around the edge of the city limits for which the Havre fire department has agreed for 30 years or more to provide fire suppression. Solomon has said districts around communities with fire departments agreeing to provide fire suppression are fairly common.

The fire department has offered its services for wildfires and structure fires for residences and businesses in the district, such as Timber Creek Village and Walmart.

With the end of the agreement Tuesday, the Havre department no longer is the first responder to fires in the district.

Peterson said he and Jamruszka and Hill County Disaster and Emergency Services Coordinator Amanda Frickel met Tuesday to set up a plan and called various fire departments including Havre’s, Bear Paw Volunteer Fire Department, Wild Horse Fire Department, Kremlin Fire Department and others to request a response to fires in the rural district under mutual aid agreements.

As Havre was the first responder to fires in the district until midnight Tuesday, whether any of those departments are designated as first responders or have mutual aid agreements with the district is unclear.

Under Montana law, if a political entity does not have a mutual aid agreement, “The local or interjurisdictional agency, incident commander, or principal executive officer of the political subdivision may request assistance from another public or private agency.”

Peterson said Jamruszka is having problems with his telephone service, so if a fire call in RFFD1 comes in it will be sent to Peterson’s phone and he will request assistance from the fire departments.

“Technically, with a little bit of a delay, it’s more fire departments responding,” he said.

He referred questions as to why the district will not agree to the city’s request on fire code enforcement to Jamruszka, but said because of the problems Jamruszka is having with his phone the interview would have to be by text message.

Jamruszka had not responded to a text sent to the number Peterson provided by printing deadline this morning.

Solomon said all the city is asking is for the rural district to appoint a fire chief or someone to be responsible for enforcing fire codes, adding that the city has been trying to get the district to address this issue for about three years.

He said no progress seems to be being made.

“We haven’t heard anything from the board so we don’t know what we are doing,” Solomon said.

He said the city is no longer willing to cover an area where fire codes are not enforced.

“We’re not wanting to continue putting our firefighters and the public in danger for not putting codes out out there,” he said, adding that all the city is asking for is for the district to appoint a fire chief.

A fire chief is responsible for fire code enforcement and has other duties, such as investigating fires, and the district still can contract out for duties such as Havre having an agreement for fire suppression, he said.

Solomon said the duties could be delegated to someone else, but it’s easier just to appoint a fire chief.

He said if the fire district will work with the city on enforcing fire codes, the city will again work with the district.

“We’re definitely willing to negotiate,” he said.

Havre Fire Chief Mel Paulson said, after 26 years of protecting life and property to fire, it’s difficult to consider not responding.

“It’s tough,” he said. “It’s a tough situation.”

 

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