Fire district responds to complaints arising from aftermath of fire

By Meg Olson

“I give you my word, the appropriate conversations have happened,” fire chief Christopher Carleton told Kenneth Calder, who had questioned the fire district last month for using an unlicensed operator to secure the scene of a fire that devastated a Gulf Road storage facility.

“There were lessons learned from this fire not only in our tactics and strategies but in the aftermath and other issues,” Carleton concluded.

Carleton’s remarks at the May 11 meeting were preceded by more than half an hour of commentary and questions from newly appointed commissioner Shannon Tomsen, who stressed the decision to hire an unlicensed operator was made by the fire marshal’s office, not assistant chief John Shields.

Shields had contacted the operator, David Gellatly, on the fire marshal’s behalf. Two licensed operators on the Point were not contacted by Shields.

Tomsen also emphasized the role fire department personnel played in assisting the fire marshal with finding an appropriate contractor was operational, and not in the purview of commissioners. RCW 39.06.010 prohibits government agencies from contracting with unlicensed or unregistered contractors.

Following the April 6 fire, the county fire marshal’s office asked for assistance bringing in a backhoe operator to bring down beams and posts so the marshal could safely investigate the fire scene.

Calder, whose belongings were severely damaged in the fire, complained that his possessions were further damaged when Gellatly, who is not licensed, bonded or insured through the state department of labor and industries, was brought in to do the job.

“The fire department came in, the fire department put out the fire, the fire department left,” said commissioner Bill Meursing. “The fire marshal came in, certain phone calls were made, rightly or wrongly. It’s out of our jurisdiction.”

Carleton said they did have a list of licensed contractors, but the recent experience led him to believe department personnel making any recommendations opened the district up to potential liability. “I believe my guideline in the future will probably have to be we don’t have an involvement,” he said.

In response from a second letter to commissioners questioning Shields’ use of the “quick response vehicle, battalion 58 to go to work and then leaving the vehicle in the transfer station parking lot while he drove the garbage truck,” Carleton said it might be unorthodox, but it works.

Shields was first on scene in 61 calls in 2015, Carleton said, often several minutes before others. When at work, he transfers medical equipment to the garbage truck when he goes out for curbside pickup. “He’s shown up on a scene in the dump truck before we show up,” Carleton said. “I think it’s value added for the community.”

Calder said he would continue to pursue the issue of unlicensed personnel being used for public business, which is in violation of state laws.

“We’ll continue to deal with this but not with this commission anymore,” Calder said. “I’ve gotten sufficient answers from this commission.” Calder has made an open public records request of the fire department asking for Shields’ cell phone call record for the day after the fire occurred.

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