Voters may have a tough time deciding who to pick for the Position 1 seat on the Lacey Fire District 3 commission because the challenger and incumbent both bring a lot of experience to the table.
Challenger Paul Perz, 67, is a former assistant state fire marshal, a job he held for seven years. Gene Dobry, 62, who is set to retire from the U.S. Department of Agriculture this month, seeks a second, six-year term on the commission. Dobry’s background is in finance — he worked with loans and grants at the USDA — and has been part of a fire district that has operated with a budget surplus the past 18 months.
“I’m on the winning team and I want to see it through fruition,” Dobry said.
But Perz touted his background, too, saying not only would he bring his fire marshal experience to the board, he has years of management experience in state government.
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“I bring a unique set of skills to the board of fire commissioners,” he said.
If elected, Perz wants to ensure Lacey firefighters are prepared to deal with the oil and coal trains that pass through the county near Lacey. This means making sure they are properly trained and equipped.
“They do get training, but not comprehensive training,” he said.
Dobry wants to continue to operate the district in a fiscally responsible way so that it can pay for equipment without having to raise taxes. He also wants to have further discussions with the Nisqually Tribe about a fee-for-service arrangement because of the number of calls the district responds to on the reservation, including at Red Wind Casino.
About 400 of the district’s 12,000 annual calls originate with the tribe, Lacey Fire Chief Steve Brooks said.
“It’s not a huge percentage, but it’s still significant for one customer,” Dobry said.
The district receives an annual grant from the tribe, but the size of the grants vary, he added.
Perz and Dobry are in agreement about coming up with a new way to respond to the large number of medical calls the district receives, some of which are not considered life threatening but still tie up firefighter resources.
“We need to look at new models,” Perz said.
For example, someone might fall out of bed at an adult family home, but rather than the staff picking up the person, they call 911 and get the fire district to do it, he said.
“It’s an abuse of the 911 system and shifts liability onto the taxpayer,” Perz said.
Dobry wants to handle those calls in a different way, too. He favors the creation of what he called a “mobile integrated health care service,” in which the district would partner with a health care provider to respond, perhaps in an SUV, to those less serious medical calls — even taking the patient to an urgent care clinic instead of an emergency room, Dobry said.
By doing this, firefighter personnel can focus on fires and more serious medical calls, he said.
The district serves Lacey and its urban growth area, 70 square smiles that is home to 90,000 people, Chief Brooks said. The district operates on an annual budget of $18 million and has 103 firefighters, 93 of whom are employed by the district, he said.