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Orcas Fire wants your feedback

By COLLEEN ARMSTRONG
Islands Sounder Publisher, Editor
March 16, 2013 · Updated 3:39 PM
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Orcas Fire and Rescue is taking a closer look at its mission statement, core values and goals.

The department has assembled a planning workgroup that will develop a five-year strategic plan to present to commissioners.

The 18-member workgroup – comprised of both OIFR representatives and those from the community – is being led by Dr. Art Lange. It is slated to be done by early May.

“It will help guide us through the budget process and future levies,” said Fire Chief Kevin O’Brien.  “Everything we do has to be fiscally accountable to tax-payers’ dollars and directly related to the mission of Orcas Fire and Rescue.”

The goal is to create a five-year, broad-based plan that will help carry the department into the future.

The first phase of the process is to “reach out to all corners of the community” to assemble feedback. The group has held get-togethers at local coffee shops, asking questions about Orcas Fire and Rescue services.

“The very first sessions have been very positive, but ... the message I am hearing loud and clear is that we need more communication,” O’Brien said.

Involvement in marine group

After several town hall meetings and community conversations, Orcas Fire has gathered public comment on a Marine Operations User’s Group.

In October, the Sheriff’s Office was awarded a Federal Port Security Grant of up to $785,000 to acquire an emergency response boat to be available to fire agencies and emergency medical services as well as law enforcement.

The vessel would be capable of serving as a marine ambulance for medical response to outer islands and medical transport to hospitals in weather conditions that make evacuation by air impossible. It will also be outfitted for marine rescue and dive response, equipped to fight marine, marina, and waterfront fires, and be an all-weather patrol boat for law enforcement and emergency response.

The boat is intended to replace two existing public safety vessels. From the Sheriff’s Office, the 28-foot Boston Whaler patrol boat on Orcas is due to be retired. San Juan Island Fire District 3 also plans to decommission its fireboat “Confidence” when the new boat, with greater fire-fighting capabilities, comes into service. The existing fire boat may be sold to another agency in the Puget Sound, helping to fund the project.

Currently, the Sheriff’s boat “Guardian” serves as a marine ambulance and emergency response vessel.

When the new boat comes into service, “Guardian” would be moved to Orcas Island, but remain available for emergencies throughout the county.

Sheriff Rob Nou is proposing a proportionate “share” in obtaining, operating and maintaining the new vessel into the future. The fire departments have yet to craft an agreement, but a decision from all three is expected by the end of April.

“We are still distilling the information we gathered from public meetings,” O’Brien said.

The board of commissioners are holding a special work session to discuss the sheriff’s boat on Tuesday, March 26 at 5:30 p.m. in the Eastsound Fire Hall.

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