The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Beka Compton
The Times 

CWWCFD2 monthly board meeting update


February 18, 2021

WAITSBURG—The Columbia-Walla Walla County Fire District 2 met on February 10, via Zoom, for a regular board meeting.

After the meeting was called to order by chairman Jake Long at 7 p.m, District clerk Anne Higgins presented an accounting report. She reported that some financial statements from both Walla Walla and Columbia County were complete. However, the January revolving account reconciliation from Walla Walla County was not available. She noted that budgetary items would have to be passed following the meeting, as the budget would have to be adjusted depending on what the board approved for upcoming motions.

There were two reimbursements, one for $745 to former chief Michael Moynihan and one vendor payment to Advanced Paging and Communication, that would need individual approval, said Higgins.

Commissioner Deb Fortner reported on the status of improvements to the station house on Main St. Waitsburg. She said the contractor is waiting for delivery of external doors, and several other projects, including adding railing to the station’s stairs, still need to be completed.

Interim Fire Chief Colter Mohney stated the district has not made any further progress with identification cards discussed at meetings prior, and he and Fortner were still trying to obtain the cards for the district’s volunteers. He hoped that he would have more information to share at the March meeting.

Interim Chief Mohney reported that he finished the application for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG), which is funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). According to the FEMA website, the grant is used to fund critically needed resources for protecting the public and emergency personnel from fire and related hazards.

He also reported that the Volunteer Fire Assistance Funding grant through the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), is available. The DNR website states Phase 1 for applying to the VFA grant will open in March 2021.

The grant is not structured traditionally, according to Mohney, but is more like a deeply discounted equipment sale. The grant offers 50% funding for equipment from the DNR cache to fire departments. Mohney said this is how CWWCFD2 purchased the majority of their wildland firefighting equipment. The officers and volunteers will complete an inventory of current equipment to complete the grant application.

Commissioner Fortner shared that she has fire hose and ladder testing agreements for board for approval. The cost for hose testing is $5,449 and $96 for ladder testing through National Hose Testing Specialties, Inc., in Dallas, Ore. The board voted to allow Fortner to sign the contract on behalf of the commissioners.

The district received an application for the EMS Trauma Grant, provided by the Department of Health. The grants were just slightly less than $1,300. Fortner submitted the grant in early-January.

Commissioner Long said he received an email from WESCOM, the dispatch service provider for Walla Walla County. The email was in follow up to a letter written by then District Chief Michael Moynihan. Commissioner Long shared a brief overview of the letter, noting March 1 as the date that Moynihan had hoped to implement the proposed changes, so commissioners could decide if they wanted to pursue the changes to dispatch services or leave them as they are.

Former Chief Moynihan first contacted Steve Ruley, Walla Walla County Public Safety Communications Manager, in October 2020 about a switch in dispatch services after experiencing multiple situations where emergency calls were delayed anywhere from five to fifteen minutes.

The Times reached out to Moynihan following the meeting, and he explained that he was trying to streamline the dispatch process, saying that ten minutes could be the difference between life and death, or saving structures.

The current dispatch situation with CWWCFD2 is interesting, because the district crosses county lines with each county receiving calls from within their county. This means calls that originate in Walla Walla County within this fire district go through a two-step process, answered first at WESCOM and then directed to Columbia County Emergency Management for dispatch to CWWCFD2.

“If the dispatch center that we (CWWCFD2) were being dispatched by was the same one that was receiving the majority of our 9-1-1 calls, that delay would not have happened,” Moynihan stated.

It was Moynihan’s understanding that there would be no additional cost should CWWCFD2 decide to switch to WESCOM. The district is already paying the minimum payment necessary, according to Ruley, and the call volume within the district was not high enough to raise costs.

“He (Ruley) and I had discussed not changing anything, with regards to the radio systems themselves, with the exception that we would be dispatched on a different channel. It’s the same channel that they use to dispatch all (Walla Walla) county units,” Moynihan said. “The Waitsburg repeater, and the current channel, would have become a tactical channel. Running a tactical channel that is on the exact same channel as your dispatch is extremely dangerous. If you don’t have a separate channel for your firefighting, it creates a lot of confusion on the fighting grounds.”

Moynihan went on to explain that he had no intention of canceling communications with Columbia County, but he would have liked to keep those communications as a fail-safe. He said his intention was to change where the district was dispatched from, and change the primary communication channel, with the safety of the district’s volunteers and the community being his biggest driving factor.

At the meeting, Strickland urged the commissioners to review the costs associated with making dispatch changes suggested by the former Chief. His argument focused on the cost and possible legalities to change ownership of the Waitsburg repeater in Waitsburg, because there was grant money involved in the installation. He also mentioned expenses associated with creating new microwave lengths that would eventually be needed, though that was not clear how those would be affected by the proposed change. The board ultimately decided to leave communications as they currently are, making no changes to channels or dispatch processes.

Columbia-Walla Walla County Fire District 2 officers are Jamie McMillen, Jake Long, Jake Adams, Matt Spring, and Miguel Castillo. Mohney said that they are gearing up for training, and he is working on accommodating work schedules and other life events for the volunteer firefighters.

Fortner reminded the district EMT’s and firefighters that the Walla Walla EMS contracts and transmittals were available at the station, and she needed those documents signed as soon as possible so she could return them to the county.

She also asked if the volunteers and line officers could help her with a flooring project at the station in the next couple of weekends. Mohney said he would get a note out to the district and would “make it happen.”

The board adjourned shortly before entering an executive session.


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