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A regional fire department makes sense for the Valley

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Merging fire departments in the Walla Walla Valley is a discussion that’s been taking place since somebody figured out how to rub two sticks together to create flames.

OK, it’s not been that long — but it has been at least a few decades. It, however, feels like it’s a discussion that’s been going on forever.

But a recent study on merging the Walla Walla County Fire Protection District 4, city of Walla Walla and city of College Place fire departments — and which recommends it occur — is a welcome sign that a consolidated regional fire department could be created.

Over the years, there has been some bickering (or worse) between local fire departments, but such tensions now seem to be long in the past. The various departments work well together through mutal-aid agreements.

The time is right, particularly with the recent growth in College Place and outside the Walla Walla city limits, to bring these departments together. Top notch service is needed throughout Walla Walla’s urban area, inside and outside the city limits of Walla Walla and College Place.

The study done by Emergency Services Consulting International emphasized the main reason to consolidate is to improve fire and medical services rather than to simply save money. That’s sound reasoning.

And, moving forward, sound reasoning and a willingness to compromise will be key to making a regional fire authority come to fruition.

The District 4 fire commissioners and the city councils of Walla Walla and College Place will have to come to an agreement on the right model for creating a regional department. It won’t be simple.

The three fire departments are very different, as Walla Walla is staffed by professional firefighters and paramedics while District 4 has some professionals but mostly volunteer firefighters.

Beyond that, the issue of control — or turf — always looms.

The study provided options for the three departments, such as having District 4 annex services from the cities, or an interlocal agreement, which would collaborate the administrative, functional and operational services from each.

It’s going to take considerable time to work out all the details, but the fact that there is real interest in making it happen is a critical step toward creating a regional fire authority to serve the Valley.