In October 2017, the South Beach Regional Fire Authority (SBRFA) combined the Westport Fire Department, four South Beach fire districts and South Beach Ambulance Services into one unified agency.
The goal was to streamline operations, reduce redundancies, unify policies and combine personnel training, among others. Over the years, the benefits of the RFA have been proven in numerous areas, including a wider response capability.
“What it’s done operationally is that there are no boundaries now we have to worry about crossing or can or cannot cross. We are now one district,” said SBRFA Chief Dennis Benn. “What that has done is allow all the members of this now one district to go anywhere and help anybody, whereas before, that was not allowed. We had restrictions where, say, (fire district) 8 can’t come into the (fire district) 3 boundary and help a citizen of that district.”
No longer limited by fire district response boundaries, any personnel and equipment within the boundaries of the RFA can respond any time, anywhere, basically between Ocosta and Tokeland.
“We can help all our citizens now better than we had in the past,” said Battalion Chief Daryl Brown.
Benn said the district can also utilize its resources better.
“When we formed in 2017 we got rid of like 13 apparatus, and that is because all the districts had the old apparatus they felt they needed to serve their citizens,” said Benn. “Now that we’re combined, we can use what used to be other districts’ apparatus to serve our citizens.”
As for the fire commissioners that oversee the SBRFA, it’s allowed them to focus efforts across the region.
“I think it’s helped the commissioners to focus better on the good of the whole rather than the individual,” said Benn. “Before they only worried about their little sandbox and not so much worried about the problems of others. And now the others’ problems are indeed our problems and we do have to worry about that. They can concentrate on that and improve the entire service, not just a small portion.”
The formation of a regional fire authority also takes the burden of managing its fire departments away from the cities they serve, said Benn, allowing them to focus more on other city business; a fire authority is its own entity and can focus entirely on fire and EMS services.
Benn said in recent years the RFA, which relies heavily on volunteer personnel, has seen “an uptick in volunteer participation, I’d say upwards of maybe a dozen or more volunteers.”
The South Beach and the Aberdeen/Hoquiam RFA plans — which will be on the November ballot — have similar goals and were drafted with input from the same consultant, Don Bivins: streamlining operations, reduction of redundancies in equipment and training, and the like.
However, the South Beach plan allowed for a cost savings in fire service for the majority of taxpayers within its service area. The Aberdeen/Hoquiam Central Grays Harbor Regional Fire Authority plan, while providing many of the same benefits of the South Beach model, will come with a significant increased cost to property owners in both cities, making the plans’ marketing and promotion challenges very different between the two.
For more information on the South Beach Regional Fire Authority online go to sbrfa.org or the agency Facebook page, facebook.com/southbeachrfa.