Falls City ends contract with SW

Fire department, district work to rebuild without formal agreement

The Falls City Fire Department hosts a National Night Out Event in August.

Photo by Jolene Guzman
The Falls City Fire Department hosts a National Night Out Event in August.

FALLS CITY — The contract between Southwest Polk Rural Fire Protection District and the city of Falls City will end officially on Monday.

The two entities have been negotiating for months, while existing on temporary extensions of a contract that expired in September. Falls City Fire Chief Bob Young said Southwest will pull its trucks and equipment from the station on Tuesday (Jan.2).

That is according to a letter the district sent the city Dec. 15. Southwest Chief Fred Hertel confirmed Friday that was the case.

“I never expected it to go this far,” Young said. “It’s pretty disappointing. No one out here is happy about it.”

Young said he attended a meeting on Dec. 11 with the Southwest board that ended with a vote allowing the contract to expire. On Nov. 30, Fallas City Acting City Manager Terry Ungricht declared negotiations at an impasse.

Young said, from his perspective, the issue was Southwest wanting to take over more of the administration of the department than he or city leaders were comfortable with.

“The city was concerned about keeping our own department,” he said. “That was really the sticking point.”

Hertel described it as a “cultural difference” between the two entities on which rules and regulations needed strict adherence.

“The rules vary from absolutes to best practices and everything in between,” Hertel said. “We disagreed on what those should be.”

The contract had Falls City firefighters responding to Southwest incidents in the district’s trucks. Young said with the Southwest trucks gone, the department is only well-equipped to respond within the city limits.

Young said he wants people who live in the district, but closer to Falls City than Southwest stations in Dallas or Rickreall, to know that they may experience longer response times. Young said those are areas that Falls City crews running Southwest engines typically arrive first.

“We are going to try to respond, but we might not be able to,” Young said.

He said his department is no longer equipped to adequately respond to Camp Tapawingo or Black Rock Mountain Bike Area.

The city and the district still have a mutual aid agreement, meaning they will send crews to each other’s calls.

Hertel said he doesn’t believe there will be a decline in service — especially since Falls City can still respond via mutual aid.

“There may be some operational gaps, and we might not have identified them all yet,” he said. “But the customer is not going to notice a difference.”

Neither side has given up on coming to an agreement at some point.

“If we can keep our fire department out here, we will do whatever,” Young said. “We will train with them. We can all be trained the same. That’s no problem.”

Hertel said joint training is where the two entities will begin rebuilding their relationship.

“I think that we found a way forward that we both can agree on,” Hertel said. “We are going to give that a try and if that doesn’t work, we will try something else.”

Southwest will send Falls City $14,050 to honor the service agreement.

“The Board did express hope that this impasse will be short-lived and the parties will continue to discuss options of a new agreement in the near future,” Hertel wrote in the Dec. 15 letter.

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