Mutual aid pact draws Moscow's attention; Moscow council members concerned agreement could force fire crews into corridor
By Omie Drawhorn, Daily News staff writer
Potential growth in the corridor between Moscow and Pullman has some members of the Moscow City Council concerned about mutual aid agreements between area fire agencies.
Members of the council's administrative committee Monday raised questions about the city's role in assisting in emergencies across the state line.
The conversation started as a routine approval of mutual aid agreements between Moscow, Whitman County Fire District 12, which includes much of the corridor, and other surrounding rural fire districts. The agreement would authorize a fire district to request assistance from Moscow in an emergency.
"All agencies have a responsibility to their areas by law; we ask for assistance when it's an incident over the size we could handle," said Moscow Fire Chief Don Strong. "We aren't going to routinely go over and take care of business."
That didn't assuage Councilman Aaron Ament's concerns.
"It's not the substance of the agreement, it's the existence of the agreement that bothers me," he said. "I would like something that ensures (Whitman County) has to respond (to incidents on the Washington side of the state line) first."
Boise-based developer Hawkins Companies submitted an application to Whitman County in January to build a more than 600,000-square-foot retail center on the north side of the Pullman-Moscow Highway, just west of the state line. Officials in Moscow have raised concerns in the past about the possibility of the city responding to police and fire situations at the development site.
Ament said he is concerned that although development is not in Moscow's jurisdiction, Moscow might be forced to respond first because its fire department is closer to the proposed development than Whitman County Fire District 12.
Councilwoman Linda Pall shared Ament's concerns.
"This becomes a sword, not a shield that people could hold up and say 'See, we've got this just in case,' " she said. "But I wouldn't want anyone to have a catastrophe and have us say that's not our problem. We want to render help if it's needed, but we don't want to be used."
Councilman John Weber said that although he agreed with Ament and Pall, he would support the agreement because he wouldn't want anyone to be close to an emergency and not able to respond.
"I would hate for us to be in a situation where firefighters are 50 feet away and watch a guy's house burn to the ground because they are in the wrong fire district," he said.
Strong said the county fire district wouldn't be able to justify the taxes residents pay if the department wasn't going to respond to fires.
Strong added that, with or without the agreement, the Moscow Fire Department likely would assist in the event of a major emergency.
"We don't stop at the line; we never have," he said. "In all reality, we can't hold most of our guys back."
Although lawyers on all sides have reviewed the agreement, Pall requested that the city take another look at the agreement before it is approved.
Strong said he was concerned that if there are significant changes to the agreement, it would put the fire districts back two years in getting all parties to agree.
Pall said she didn't anticipate starting from scratch.
The agreement will be reviewed again at the July 24 administrative committee meeting.
It has been tradition for years that nearby agencies have mutual aid agreements. If something big happens, and the fire department needs more resources they can call on their neighbor for help.
Why is it now that there is a concern. Are the anti-growth people of Moscow, the same ones who want to stop the Hawkins Development going to use public safety as a way to try to derail development in Whitman County.
That is a dangerous raod to go down for everyone involved. Imagine a car accident at Airport road and the Moscow Highway. Let's say there are four cars involved and seven people are hurt. That would tap the resources of Whitman County and Pullman. Because the Moscow City Council is against the Hawkins Development, they are willing to keep their equipment on their side of the border and allow someone to possible die waiting for an ambulance?
Let's say there is a huge field fire behind the Palouse Mall. Let's say Moscow has all their units there, but they need more help. Without the agreement, I guess they could not call on Whitman County. So many acres of field and possible structures would burn down because of a development that the Moscow City Council does not like.
For years and years these kind of agreements have been around but because of a private company developing their land inside the Washington border, Moscow is going to "take their ball and go home".
The funny thing, in this whole situation the ONLY people who will be affected by this decision are the tax-paying citizens Washington and Idaho, not the Hawkins Company. Way to hold the life and safety of people hostage to hold up development!