Six Fire Districts Discuss Merging Into One

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Several fire districts across the Rim Country are discussing whether they should merge into one cohesive unit.

The districts involved would include Houston Mesa, Beaver Valley, Whispering Pines, Christopher Creek, Tonto Village and Diamond Star.

The Payson Fire Department would not be included, as it is not a district. It is a town function, funded by taxpayers.

The Pine and Strawberry fire departments, Hatch said, chose not to take part because their responsibilities differ.

If the districts were to merge, it would place the new department by size in the top 20 in Arizona.

The six districts are talking about merging to simplify service.

Diamond Star Fire Chief Gary Hatch said, if the area in the Rim Country was new, there would never be six different departments clustered so close to each other.

"We are all covering large areas," Hatch said, adding that each district has three members who are involved in the discussions -- a chief officer, board member and a resident from the public.

Hatch said, now, the six fire chiefs are duplicating services and doing the same jobs.

He also said, all six districts are paying six different training officers and the insurance coverage of $5 million.

In addition, he said, all six departments have an administrative assistant.

He said each of the fire chiefs under a merger could concentrate on his or her expertise. He added that if it were good for the community, he would step down as fire chief if the merger were to become a reality.

"If it is good for the community, I would leave and find a job elsewhere," Hatch said. "It basically is a six-headed dragon that is chewing itself up."

The Diamond Star fire chief said merging districts is not a new idea. Many across the state have already done so, he said, calling this practice the No. 1 issue in today's fire service.

If the six districts were to merge, departments could be on more equal footing.

Some of the districts right now do not have paramedics or an emergency medical technician.

Currently, Hatch said, the fire departments in Gila County have a mutual-aid agreement to help other communities when emergencies arise.

He said the change if a merger were to occur, would be that this assistance would be automatic, and fire departments would not have to wait for a call asking for help.

Five of the six districts are on board with the merger. Christopher Creek is still undecided.

He said if the merger were done, it would not be implemented for some time -- more than a year from now.

"We have to sit down to decide if it will work," Hatch said.

"If there are no benefits to the public, we won't do it. If it's a good (thing), we will make it work."

He said if there is a merger it will take about five years to even out the playing field among the departments involved.

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