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Fire District 4 station talks brew over at commission

SNOHOMISH — Fire District 4 reiterated through a statement at the Aug. 19 fire commission meeting that the Maple Avenue station is not closing.
Public interest in the station is tied to an announcement from fire commission candidate Evan Merritt proclaiming the station is closing that circulated days after the primary election.
Representatives from the fire union issued fliers to urge people to attend the Aug. 19 meeting to save the station, helping create an uncharacteristically well attended meeting. Nearly 40 people attended.
Two representatives from the firefighter’s union spoke during the public comment period of the Aug. 19 meeting.
One was Kenton Lucky, on behalf of the firefighters of local 2694.
Lucky said “presumptions and misunderstandings have been made” regarding the Maple Avenue station issue. “This member believes that there hasn’t been enough communication” between the commission and the union.  
Lucky said the union wants to be included in strategic planning for the fire district, and wants to maintain a fully staffed Maple Avenue station with the “goal of providing the best service possible.”
Shawn Osborne, the local firefighters union president, confirmed those goals in a phone interview after the meeting.
At the meeting, Simmons announced that the union and the fire district have plans to meet.
A video of city administrator Steve Schuller speaking during a city tour of the Maple Avenue station broke open the idea the station is closing.
Merritt and Schuller had a conversation after the video post went on social media. Both said they determined a misunderstanding had occurred.
Merritt’s Facebook posts that followed still insist that the station was always definitively closing, and now it is not.
The station is part of a land deal between the city and the fire district. The sites are co-owned 50-50 by the city and the fire district.
The fire district is now offering to buy the Maple Avenue station along with two other pieces of property the district currently co-owns with the city. Two of the fire stations need improvements, which are easier to complete with full ownership.
The new offer the Tribune understands was drafted on July 22 differs from a prior land swap deal the fire district and city initiated last year. That deal had the fire district trading the Maple Avenue station for full ownership of the fire district’s headquarters station on Avenue D plus the parcel the Snohomish Community Food Bank is on.
Schuller told the Tribune that under the original deal one option could be that the fire district could lease the Maple Avenue station site from the city.
Officials said discussions that sounded like closure-plans were related to the strategic planning process.
Merritt said in a phone interview that support from the union grew after his post.
Merritt attended the Aug. 19 fire commission meeting, the first one he’s attended in about two years by his estimation.
Merritt wore a red baseball cap and sat toward the back of the room. He did not sign up to speak at the meeting.
Asked how he felt about the presentation by the commission after the meeting, Merritt said, “all positive.”
Asked if he felt communications would improve between the fire district and firefighters after this, he said, “yes.”
One day later, he posted a suggestion that’s gained new interest that asks to arrange a fire protection trade with the city. Instead of having Fire District 4 purchase all three properties from the city, it could trade fire protection services to the city to get the station ownership stakes.
Merritt points to an arrangement between the City of Monroe and Fire District 7 as evidence it can be done. That deal had the city of Monroe transfer its ownership share of fire stations to Fire District 7 in trade for fire protection services. The Monroe deal was written at a time when Monroe’s Fire District 3 was being annexed by Fire District 7 after a vote of the people to merge.
At the Aug. 19 meeting, Whitney Mansfield, a firefighter and union member, spoke to the commission crowd, saying the social media post triggered a lot of frustrations. “We knew we were on a timeline. We only had until Sept. 19 to address these issues.” 
Sept. 19 was the deadline for when the due diligence phase on the land deal between the city and fire district required a decision.
He said station 41 (Maple Avenue) is the fastest backup to station 42 (Avenue D) and “it’s the fastest backup to this station,” he said, standing in the Harvey Room of the educational center, adjacent to the Avenue D station.   
Information still circulating on the grapevine days after the commission meeting focused on Maple Avenue fire station closing, and discussing a lack of transparency. 
Commission chair Mark Hintz, who Merritt is challenging in the election, read an official statement that reiterated that there were no plans now, nor were there ever plans, to close Maple Avenue station.
Of Merritt’s actions to save the fire station, Hintz said in a phone interview: “He’s capitalizing on a situation, which is great gamesmanship but there’s no honesty to it.” 
At the meeting, commissioner Jim Schmoker addressed the audience with a statement intended to ease fears. “That station down there serves a purpose. If it is ever closed, it will be because we can’t keep it open or we have a better option,” Schmoker said.  
Merritt said he spoke with Schmoker at length over the phone after the meeting.
The Maple Avenue station, known as Station 41, is located at Fifth Street and Maple Avenue, near the Snohomish Aquatic Center and skate park, and near an onramp to Highway 2. Response times have been discussed in both public conversations and concerns from firefighters, regarding any talk of station closure, and related to staffing-levels at Station 41. 
At the Aug. 20 City Council meeting, the issue was addressed by Mayor John Kartak publicly.
“I live about a block away from the station and they put out a house fire at my home, about eight years ago,” Kartak said at the council meeting. “For me, personally, very personally, having a fire station one block away from my house is very important. … I don’t think that any of us want to lessen their high standards for those response times.” 
Hintz told the crowd that the meeting was being recorded and both audio and video options are available by written request, addressing the perception that the commission lacked transparency.



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