Rural Fire 1 Board, Havre Remain at Impasse

A close up of a map of Hill County showing the boundaries of Fire Districts. Everything in green outside of city limits is considered to be under the jurisdiction of Rural Fire District 1

HAVRE, Mont. (NMB) – The Hill County Rural Fire District 1 Board and City of Havre remain at an impasse as the fire suppression agreement between the District and Havre is set to expire at the end of the month.

This comes after officials from Havre announced their intention to terminate the agreement last November.

The Board convened on Tuesday morning at the Hill County Courthouse for their monthly meeting and approved the sending of a fire suppression agreement contract offer to the City of Havre. The Agreement is the same as what is currently in place, however it has a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) attached as an addendum. The MOU states that enforcement of the fire code in the District is not under the authority of the Board, but rather is the duty of the state fire marshals. The MOU cites the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, Title 50 of Montana Code Annotated.

“We’re not allowed to,” Board member Courtney Tait said. “It’s basically out of our purview. It spells it out pretty specifically.”

This is the same stance expressed by the Board at last week’s special meeting, and is in disagreement with the interpretation Mayor Tim Solomon has of the role of the Board, which he says can provide enforcement.

Solomon told New Media Broadcasters on Wednesday that the Memorandum does not clear up the City’s concerns. He says the Memorandum talks about the state fire marshals assisting reporting and enforcement, but it needs to be clear who they are assisting. He says that he still has hope that progress towards a new contract can be made, but that the safety of the firefighters and the public is of the highest priority.

At last week’s meeting, Solomon requested the Board to speak with an attorney to help sort out the issue. Board Chair Steven Jamruszka says they met with the City Attorney at Hi-Line Law.

“With potential conflicts of interest, Tyson (Parman) and I were amicable with where our differences were and made no inferences on contract language or anything else. It was strictly an informational meeting. So again, without discussion, I don’t know where it’s going, but he has our input.”

Solomon says that he would still like to see the Board sit down with an Attorney or another expert on the matter that could help with the situation.

If a new agreement is not reached between the City and the Board by the end of the month or an extension to the current agreement is not granted, those residing in the District will likely face increased fire insurance costs. In addition, the Havre Fire Department would no longer be obligated to suppress fires in the District. Solomon and Havre Fire Chief Mel Paulson said at last week’s meeting that they would still respond to fires, but the District would be billed directly for all costs.

“So I have no idea what that side of the coin is driving at or what will satisfy them,” Jamruszka said. “But, we know this much: we’ve gotta time crunch and we have to do something.”

Any agreement would have to be approved by the City Council, which does not currently have any meetings scheduled for the remainder of June.

However, Solomon says he is open to holding a special council meeting later this month if progress is made.

If the City does not approve the agreement, another option for the Board would be to contract with another department that covers another rural fire district, such as Bear Paw Volunteer Fire Department. However, the Board expressed trepidation at that option, saying they have less training with structure fires than the Havre Fire Department.

Rural Fire District 1 is essentially a ring around Havre in which the Havre Fire Department provides services under the current agreement.

The next District meeting is set for Tuesday, July 13th at 11 AM in the Timmons Room of the Hill County Courthouse.

This post has been updated

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