“Basically we’re giving a free service to the county because there is nobody [else] to do it and we want to protect the community [and] the citizens,” said Moab Valley Fire Department Chief Phil Mosher. “We provide HAZMAT to the tech level, we provide rescue for ambulance, we do all the extrications … and we have a dive team so we dive the river.”
Last fall, the MVFPD asked the Grand County Council for more than $200,000 for services rendered in the county. That request was denied, with the council initially offering $100,000 then, as the budget process progressed, backtracking and offering $50,000 with a memorandum of understanding.
The MVFD is a volunteer department, with three full-time staff taking care of administration and day-to-day operational needs. The fire department is overseen by elected commissioners and has the authority to raise a tax on citizens within the district — but Mosher said he does not want to raise taxes to pay for the increasing number of calls outside of the district, in the county.
Mosher said that funding request was calculated based on the percentage of calls to the county outside of the district. He said the funds the MVFPD receives will go back into its general fund and will be used for expenses like new equipment, which he believes is a good way to incentivize volunteering.
“We’re trying to find a revenue source to be able to keep on doing what we’re doing, to be able to make sure places are protected and they have a service, and basically that we can give incentives to our guys to be able to keep our volunteers longer,” Mosher said. “We’ve had volunteers over 45 years, some of them. So we have a good track record of keeping volunteers, but they start to burn out and the newer people coming in, they don’t have the same mentality I guess.
“They don’t have the means to be able to live here if they’re volunteering, so if we can’t make it worth their while or make something happen for them to try to keep them there, they have to work two, three, four jobs to be able to live here … we as volunteers, we have a moral obligation to ourselves. If we page out, we’re going to go. But the more you do that and the less incentives, the more burnt out people get.”
Thompson Springs Fire Department Chief Mark Marcum, also the fire warden for Grand County, said he relies on MVFD to tackle structural fires throughout the county. As warden, Marcum is the representative for wildland fire fighting in unincorporated areas of the county.
“[The Moab Valley Fire Department] will come out, say if we have something in Thompson, they will come out there and help and that’s not in their district,” Marcum said. “Basically if you need them somewhere that’s out of the district they’ll try to respond and they have been really good about that, but it takes them out of their district so that’s a little problem.”
Grand County Council Member Curtis Wells agrees the county needs to fund the fire department at a higher level than in the past.
“We’ve only paid them $20,000 a year since the beginning, which is not much. And I don’t know what the logic behind that was probably because they are their own taxing entity and they’ve raised taxes in the past to manage their operations on their side,” Wells said. “But ... there was consensus that that wasn’t enough for the county. The county should be contributing more … we originally talked about budgeting up to $100,000 for them but we ended up, because of the demands of the budget process, only budgeting $50,000 for them. But I thought that that was a very good thing because that’s more than double what we’ve paid them in the past.”
Wells said the county needs to perform due diligence on the memorandum of understanding that the fire department presented. In the memorandum, the department asks for $1,800 per incident after the $50,000 the county is offering has been used.
“They’ve provided a rate that’s $1,800 per incident and so we’re going to be, in the coming weeks and near future, evaluating that figure to verify that that’s a fair figure and an accurate figure, to do our homework and then once we identify a per-incident rate that we think is fair, we’re going to be reengaging with them to get a legal compact in place. And I also want to say that I really appreciate [Mosher] and his service to the district and the community, and the fire commissioners’ service to the district and the community, and look forward to working with them to get this in place and get certainty in place so we can all focus on our jobs,” Wells said.
Mosher, in turn, thanked the volunteers for making the fire department what it is.
“If we didn’t have our volunteers, we wouldn’t have a department. We wouldn’t be able to fund full-time people or anything like that. So our volunteers are the world to us ... they’re the ones that should get that credit. That is what makes us a great department. They’re the ones day to day that when the pagers go off, they leave their families, they do all this stuff … and make us all look good.”