Orcas fire announces new chief search and 2012 budget

Fire Chief Mike Harris at the department's 9/11 ceremony this year. The search for a new chief is underway.

Orcas Fire and Rescue will soon be searching for a new fire chief to replace Mike Harris, who is moving on.

Board member Barbara Bedell will chair the search and selection committee, hand-picked by the Orcas fire board during executive session.

“The committee is charged with evaluating applicants and recommending [three] of them to the board for its consideration,” said commissioner Jim Coffin. The board will make the final selection.

The committee will be made up of six yet-to-be-named members to include one paid department staff member, two unpaid volunteers and two members of the public at large. Names will be announced on Nov. 22 at 7:30 p.m. Bedell said the chief search will “probably be limited to the West Coast.”

A contingent of roughly 20 islanders attended the last board meeting on Nov. 8 – most to express their wish that the board hire Orcas resident and Auburn fire battalion chief Kevin O’Brien as the new Orcas fire chief. Kevin McCoy read a letter composed by Kari and Jim Schuh, with their son Cameron, all Orcas fire volunteers. They asked the board to dispense with “the wasteful option of a long drawn out nationwide chief search.” The Schuhs said some ex-volunteers have told them they would re-commit to the fire department if O’Brien was chief.

The board declined to dispense with its process, which Coffin said is the same procedure used to hire Harris.

“In fairness to that candidate, we need to go through a vetting process and qualify that candidate,” Coffin said. “What we need is the best person for the position … If our local candidate is the best, he’ll be it.”

Coffin estimates the search process will take about two months.

2012 fire budget

Also at its Nov. 8 meeting, the board approved its 2012 budget.

The district’s Proposed 2012 Operations Budget is $1,524,053, up $32,022 or 2.15 percent from 2011. The estimated revenue for 2012 – made up of donations, grants and taxes – is $2,059,600, up $39,400 or 1.95 percent from 2011. The cost of living adjustment was 2.55 percent.

The budget includes these main components: Legislative: $51,796; Employees & Administration: $841,614; Operations: $210,900; Public Education: $12,806; Fire Marshal: $53,000; Training: $68,900; Facilities: $71,500; Maintenance: $78,558; EMS Ambulance and Operations: $81,584; Communications: $53,395; Bond payment: $184,400; Capital Projects: $200,000.

In other budget details: Pay for two commissioners: $6,046, based on $104 per meeting. Bedell has elected not to receive a stipend.

Chief search: $5,000. New fire chief salary: $82,790, plus $15,000 to cover a transition period.

Other items include $48,578 for a career captain, $28,500 for a half-time financial officer, $40,000 for a paid responder position that replaces the previous public education specialist position, $50,940 for division chiefs, $315,000 for four firefighter/paramedics, and $59,580 for “extra help.”

Personnel benefits will cost $128,900; volunteer benefits $110,400. Fire apparatus fuel is $10,000; insurance wil cost $34,000.

The fire marshal’s office is budgeted at $53,000, paid for by fees collected county-wide. The district has eight full-time employees and two part-time employees, and contracts with medical director Mike Sullivan.

“I am proud that we have not increased the FTEs that were here when I arrived,” Harris told the Sounder. “We do, however, pay more for many positions and I stand behind that as a living wage for the island.”

Up-to-date volunteers receive: $30 per year paid into a retirement plan hosted by the state board of volunteer firefighters; $18.81 for athletic club memberships for volunteers who visit at least eight times per month; and reimbursement of up to $100 per month for medical expenses. Volunteers also receive a discounted membership rate from Orcas Spa | Athletics.