Beaver Valley Meeting Addresses Fledgling Fire District

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It was "bring your own chair and dress warm" at the Beaver Valley town hall meeting last week.

The meeting provided residents the opportunity to ask the fire board and fire chief questions about paramedic and fire coverage after the contract with Houston Mesa expires March 13.

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Volunteers at the new Beaver Valley volunteer fire district practiced their rescue techniques at a joint training exercise with the Payson and Whispering Pines districts last weekend. The crew is honing its skills for the coming weekend when they will no longer have fire and paramedic coverage from the Houston Mesa district.

Prior to the meeting, Beaver Valley chairman Larry Martin ordered that all things not owned by the district -- including auxiliary owned chairs -- be removed from the building, unless sold or donated back to the district. Therefore, residents were told to bring their own chairs. Also, the heater wasn't working properly, and folks had a hard time hearing over the loud hum of the motor.

Despite these factors, the fire station was packed on the dank Tuesday evening with those wanting clarification on how the fledgling fire department was prepared to respond once the Houston Mesa Volunteer fire district was no longer contractually obligated to respond to fire and medical emergencies.

After several attempts to keep a combined department while the new Beaver Valley volunteer fire district became fully functional, contract negotiations were discontinued by the Beaver Valley fire board.

Shortly after the cessation of negotiations, residents complained that they were not being informed on what was happening with their fire department. Martin called a town hall meeting to permit residents to express their opinions and ask questions.

Longtime resident Bing Brown moderated the town hall meeting, providing a structured format, free of "personal attacks."

Brown asked Beaver Valley fire chief Duke Arrington to brief the crowd on the progress of his volunteer force.

"Currently we have 12 people trained in the automated external defibrillator cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (AED CPR)," Arrington said. "After this weekend, we will have 13 basic firefighters who will have taken the state-recognized 24-hour class. We currently have three firefighters 1 and 2." Arrington said more prospective volunteers will finish other types of training at a later date.

HM Fire Chief Frank Hansen, as well as paramedic Tim Lynch, were among the volunteers from the Houston Mesa district present at the town hall meeting. Both fielded questions from the public throughout the meeting.

After several minutes of debate over the effect on homeowner insurance rates of the new fire district, the issue was put to rest as several people had received different information regarding insurance rates.

One resident asked when the district would sign another contract for service with Houston Mesa. Martin said his board ceased negotiations, pointing to copies of four drafts of a proposed contract with Houston Mesa that Beaver Valley rejected.

"There were three main points that we objected to in the contract proposals," Martin said. "One was money, the second one was the time that they wanted to hold us to the agreement, and the third was that they would have total control of equipment, volunteers, everything."

When asked if they would be negotiating anymore, Martin responded, "No we're not. We're kind of in limbo."

Several residents expressed concerns about receiving proper care if they had a medical emergency. A "drug box" that contains emergency medications can only be accessed by a licensed paramedic. The closest box is locked up at the Mesa del station for use by Lynch, a Beaver Valley resident who chose to stay with Houston Mesa.

"When people call 911, it goes to dispatch and an ambulance is automatically dispatched to Beaver Valley," Arrington said. "We have first responders here, which is not quite an emergency medical technician (EMT), who will go to your house, knock on your door, take your vitals, and administer oxygen," Arrington said. "You will not be without help."

Lynch was put on the spot by one resident who questioned his allegiance to his own community in his choice to stay with the Houston Mesa department. Being one of the most highly-trained medical professionals in the entire Houston Mesa region, Lynch has been caught in the middle of the fire district drama.

While Lynch said he would continue to respond to any neighbors in need of his services, he admitted that he was somewhat constrained by certain liabilities and requirements he faces as a paramedic, employed in Mesa, and volunteering for the Houston Mesa District.

Although Arrington also is a paramedic, he lost his license after being charged with possession of marijuana he said was for medical purposes during his treatment for Hepatitis C. Arrington is currently working to get recertified so that he, too, can have a drug box on site.

"As everyone knows I'm suffering growing pains, myself," Arrington said, "I'm having difficulty getting my paramedic license reinstated while I'm on probation. I'm trying to do more community service, get those times knocked down so we can have our own drug box."

Arrington described Beaver Valley's mutual aid agreement that provides emergency backup if an emergency cannot be handled by fire district personnel. Although this is available, it is to be used with discretion and applies mainly to large-scale disasters.

As the meeting went on, the topic of continuing negotiations with Houston Mesa for short-term coverage continued to be suggested by members of the audience.

Hansen said he and his board may be open to negotiating certain issues of equipment and financial responsibility and thought it prudent that the two boards meet for negotiation.

Martin agreed to take the idea back to his board and address the option during the next board meeting.

Later in the week, the Beaver Valley board convened, and after a brief discussion, voted unanimously to begin negotiations, not with Houston Mesa, but Whispering Pines. The board hopes to reach an arrangement whereby EMTs from Whispering Pines can assist Beaver Valley in a medical emergency until Beaver Valley has more trained volunteers.

"We will be negotiating with Whispering Pines, but we're going to stay open to looking at anything Houston Mesa might offer us," Martin said. "But we will not negotiate with both districts at the same time."

March 8, the Beaver Valley volunteers conducted joint exercises in Beaver Valley with firefighters from Payson and Whispering Pines in preparation for the coming fire season when they may be an independently functioning district.

While the board and volunteers in Beaver Valley are moving swiftly to train and supply themselves with equipment, their limited budget has them looking for assistance from one of their neighboring districts.

With less than a week left until Beaver Valley's contract with Houston Mesa ends, which district and what type of assistance is still up in the air.

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