With Deadline Looming, Local Officials Try to Work Out a Deal Between Havre and Rural Fire 1

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) – Following a hectic Tuesday full of both formal and informal meetings, the City of Havre and Hill County’s Rural Fire District 1 may finally be nearing an agreement that would continue to see the Havre Fire Department provide fire suppression services in the District through June of 2022.

Officials with Rural Fire 1, Hill County, and Havre held a working discussion late Tuesday afternoon to try and sort out remaining issues between the parties.

“It was realizing that the plan B that we had two weeks ago was definitely not going to work,” Hill County Disaster and Emergency Services Coordinator Amanda Frickel told New Media Broadcasters following the working discussion. “And so it became very imperative and almost emergency status again to figure it out, come to terms and get the contract signed before we reach the deadline again and have the same problem. Nobody was going to leave that meeting until we had it figured out today.”

According to Rural Fire 1 Chair Steven Jamruszka, the agreement would allow them to authorize an official to follow up with enforcement and inspection issues in the District.

Jamruszka says that he believes that this satisfies the requirements the City has been asking for to ensure local enforcement of fire codes. He says he will present the City with a formal contract offer on Wednesday morning.

Mayor Tim Solomon was at the working discussion and says he is hopeful that a deal will be struck on Wednesday before the midnight deadline, but stressed that nothing is finalized yet.

This comes after the Hill County Rural Fire District 1 Board convened on Tuesday morning for their regular monthly meeting and approved a fire suppression agreement that Solomon rejected due to the fact that it did not include any “local enforcement, which is the one thing we’ve asked for.”

The vote to approve the proposed agreement was 2-1. Chairman Steven Jamruszka and new board member Neil Larson voted in favor, while Courtney Tait provided the opposing vote. Board member Susann Tharp had an excused absence.

Before the meeting adjourned, Tait announced his resignation from the Board, effective on the afternoon of September 14th.

“I don’t really think I can help you guys,” Tait said. “I’m going to be a hindrance to you. And you’ve got enough to make a quorum, so I’m officially resigning. I think this negotiation was extremely poorly handled. Actually, there wasn’t a negotiation.”

This comes as both sides have been at an impasse for months, with the point of contention revolving around enforcement of fire codes. The City would like to receive notice when buildings in the District are being constructed and/or repurposed, and would like to know what potential dangers are in buildings so that their firefighters are prepared for what they are encountering.

Currently, Hill County Fire Warden Amanda Frickel and Kremlin Volunteer Fire Chief Kody Peterson are voluntarily handling local enforcement of fire codes in the District, but they have not been appointed by the Board.

“Basically, we’ve volunteered to do it through basically, June 30th, 2022. Along the way, we may come up with some sort of more formal agreement with an actual written description of duties and such. But in the meantime, to keep things rolling, we’re volunteering,” Peterson said.

As currently stated, if an agreement is not reached by midnight Wednesday night, the Havre Fire Department would no longer be obligated to suppress fires in the District. Fire calls to dispatch from the District would be referred to local volunteer fire departments.

Mayor Tim Solomon has said the current deadline could be extended if progress towards an agreement continues to be made.

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