Six people run for fire commissioner

Six people have shown an interest in filling the vacant Orcas Island Fire and Rescue Board of Commissioners seat. Long-time commissioner Jim Coffin resigned during the board’s regular meeting on Aug. 22.

Candidates Timothy Fuller, Steve Vierthaler, Amanda Montague, Jim Helminski and Pierrette Guimond all spoke with the board and community members during the board’s regular meeting on Sept. 19. Absent from the session was the sixth candidate John Dann, MD, DMD.

“I’m so impressed with the applicants,” said Chairwoman Barbara Bedell. “We have some really qualified people.”

The board will choose a new commissioner on Monday, Oct. 3 at 5:30 p.m. during a special meeting. Whoever is selected will be in the position until it is up for re-election in November 2019.

“You’ll know when white smoke comes out of the ceiling, world peace will prevail,” joked Commissioner Wesley Heinmiller.

Other business conducted during the regular meeting is highlighted below.

Chief’s report

Williams said there have been fewer calls thus far in 2016 than there were by this time in 2015. As of Sept. 19, OIFR has responded to 713 calls as opposed to 822 last year.


“We’re right about where we should be,” said interim Fire Chief Scott Williams, noting that the station has used 67 percent of its yearly finances. “Right now, we’re just spending what is needed for operation.”

There were three small fires over the past month, Williams said. One was at Moran, which was extinguished by the park ranger before OIFR even arrived, and the second was a recreational fire that was approximately 15 feet by 20 feet.

“Both fires were quickly contained,” said Williams. “We dumped a bunch of water – it’s what we do.”

The third fire was on a private pier. A 19-foot boat, the pier and a 40-foot vessel docked nearby were damaged.

Administration and operations were functioning like normal, said Williams, and apparatus maintenance is a priority this year. One of the ambulances is temporarily out of service, and a mechanical seal needs to be replaced on Engine 21. Engine 25 is experiencing an issue with its Compressed Air Foam system, but replacement of that unit isn’t an urgent need.

“We’ve got plenty of CAF operations on other units,” said Williams.

Old business

The board officially accepted former commissioner Coffin’s letter of resignation. Since Coffin was already working on the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Washington State Firefighter’s Association, the board voted to allow him to finish out those negotiations.

When the county hired Fire Marshal Bob Low, as a part of his contract he offered to work only 32 hours a week, allowing eight hours to employ a deputy fire marshal. OIFR firefighter RJ Myers was selected to serve as deputy fire marshal and OIFR is currently waiting on an interlocal agreement. As of right now, the department pays Myers for the eight hours he works as deputy fire marshal and then it is reimbursed from the county.

“That will support a fire marshal program here on the island, which is great,” said Williams.

Expanding the board

During the public outcry against the board’s decision to select a new commissioner in late August, there was also a push for the board to expand the board from three members to five. There are several ways to expand the board, but they all require a public election.

Chief search

“It’s been thin,” said Bedell about the response to the open position for fire chief.

She said OIFR has received only two responses.

“I hope it gets better,” Bedell said.

The search currently is set to run through Oct. 14, but the board may extend that deadline to allow for more candidates to apply.