Requesting $200,000 annually from the county council, the Moab Valley Fire Protection District wants Grand County to provide what they say is a more equitable reimbursement rate for fire suppression and emergency services throughout the year.
Not only does Moab Valley Fire occasionally respond to areas outside their taxing district — like some private lands in Grand County — but Moab Valley Fire representatives say they are the only provider of much-needed services like structure fire and hazmat response in the community.
Although Grand County is responsible for fire suppression on private lands outside of existing fire districts, they do not have a fire department of their own. That, says fire chief Phil Mosher, means that Moab Fire often picks up the slack.
“They don’t have a fire service in Grand County. We do,” Mosher said. “It’s hard to justify to our taxpayers, it’s been years of getting the service for free.”
Grand County does have a fire warden – Cody Greaves – but his position is limited only to wildland fire on private and state lands. Speaking with The Times-Independent, Greaves listed the various situations that Moab Valley Fire could legally respond to, ticking off structure fires like oil and gas wells, telephone poles, railroad infrastructure, as well as hazardous materials in general.
“There was a big grassfire that was started by a car on fire,” Greaves recalled. “Moab Fire put out the car fire and I responded with the [Bureau of Land Management] and put out the grass fire … Brush fires are usually caused by vehicle fires, equipment pieces like dragging chains … So they’re responding to the equipment starting the fires.”
Two other districts provide fire suppression services in the community — the Castle Valley Special Service District for Fire Protection and the Thompson Springs Special Service Fire District.
But similar to the county’s fire warden, neither district is legally able to respond to structure fires or able to provide hazmat response. And with just one person currently serving in the Thompson Springs fire department, Moab Valley is picking up coverage in northeast Grand County for structure and wildland fire as well.
According to Mosher, Moab Fire responded to approximately 64 incidents outside of their district last year, or about 29 percent of their calls. Calculating the value of those responses at 29 percent of their budget, Mosher asked Grand County for a $200,000 annual reimbursement during the council’s regular meeting Aug. 15.
“We’re putting out hard numbers and saying ‘this is what Moab Valley Fire District provides to Grand County,” Mosher said. “ … We are a taxing entity and we don’t want to have to push that back to our tax base ... We have a way to recoup from federal lands, we have a way to recoup from San Juan [County] … but when we come to Grand County and say ‘hey we need a little help’ and we can’t even get that.”
Last year, the council allocated $30,000 to the Moab Valley Fire Protection District — exactly $170,000 less than the current request.
Although county council members said they are taking Mosher’s request “seriously,” they are hoping for greater clarity on the reimbursement costs as they enter their fall budget discussions.
Council member Curtis Wells specifically requested Mosher provide the percentage of calls on state and federal lands, which are outside of Moab Fire’s district but not necessarily a fiscal responsibility of Grand County.
“You’re coming in and you’re saying ‘we need to pay our fair share’ which I couldn’t agree more and I appreciate greatly what you guys do,” Wells said. “So I want to know, how much of that [29 percent] of incidents outside the special service district boundary is happening on federal lands? Because essentially you’re asking us to pay for the federal government or the state’s responsibility in compensating you guys for the incidents that take place on that land.”
Although Mosher said he would bring that data to the county, he argued that Grand County still benefits from Moab Fire’s suppression efforts on federal and state lands.
“On those calls, we’re still providing this to Grand County to keep it from getting it to those private properties. We’re making sure that we try to keep those fires small,” Mosher said. “ … If we didn’t respond [to those calls], how much bigger would that fire be?”
Mosher described their response to the June 22 fire near Thompson Springs, which charred 141 acres on public lands but threatened structures in town.
“That’s on federal and state lands, and if it goes into Thompson [and] we’re not there to make that quick response and start hitting that, what kind of damage occurs then?” Mosher asked.
Council member Greg Halliday, who volunteers with Castle Valley Fire, said that more discussions are needed to really solve Grand County’s issues with fire coverage and adequate reimbursement.
“We need to have some more sit-down discussions with them to come up with something that is mutually agreeable,” Halliday said. “Moab Fire is critical to everything we do in Grand County … they’re the only qualified structure fire department. They are the only ones that have a scuba team to pull things out of the river. They are just critical to being able to live in Grand County.”
Wells agreed that these issues are “not black and white,” and said — like other council members — that making this situation more equitable will be a “primary priority” during Grand County’s upcoming budgeting process beginning this September.