City Government

Boise Gives Away Fire Service Outside City

Each budget season local governments across the USA look for ways to fund essential services. According to the Minneapolis STAR-TRIBUNE there is a move to charge fees to tax-exempt properties ranging from churches, and hospitals to government agencies and institutions of higher learning. In Boise the most glaring example of free city services lies with the Fire Department.
Fire truck in motion at night with lights flashing in Boise, Idaho.
In 2012 Boise FD provided more than 200 emergency responses to Boise State University free of charge, however Boise coppers are paid to provide police services. At the University of Idaho in Moscow the school pays $74,000 a year to the local all-volunteer department and even tossed in half the cost of a ladder truck under an older agreement.

While Boise gives a free ride to BSU and the entire state Capitol Mall complex, they get $61,000 a year for protecting the U.S. Courthouse on Fort St.

Saint Lukes and St. Als hospitals qualify as “frequent flyers” with the number of responses by the Department, but neither pays for the service since they qualify as non-profit. But when it comes to building permits and impact fees, the medical facilities pay the same as any other consumer. The city loves those big expensive projects because they pay well. Simply put, there is no standard policy of what is free and what is paid.

A few years ago Chief Dennis Doan got the city council to agree on some contract deals which saw Boise FD taking over the North Ada County Fire And Rescue as well as the Whitney Rural fire district on the southeast side of town. Both deals were great for the rural agencies, but Boise ends up providing better service than the rural districts previously had for the same price. The station on Chinden owned by NACFAR no longer is staffed, increasing the response times to the commercial areas of Chinden and Fairview which it previously covered.

Meanwhile the BFD is stretched across an area of nearly 30 miles from the Elmore County line on the East to the Boise County line on the northwest. There is a modest arrangement between BFD and Idaho Transportation Department for responding to car fires on I-84 east. It is “incident based.” During 2012, BFD records show $2125 was billed to ITD for two calls. ITD told the GUARDIAN they had paid for three calls for a total of $1099. If the figures are correct, it means the state has paid about half the amount they were billed.

The eastern service boundary is at least 13 miles outside the city limits. Ada 911 dispatch records indicate the BFD rolled on 49 medical calls (automobile accidents) during 2012 that were outside the city limits on I-84 east…all at the expense of Boise taxpayers. Those runs are hard on equipment–like the engine that got smacked while parked at the scene of a crash in the past 10 days. The rig is out of service and the exact cost of repairs is currently being estimated. ITD refuses any liability for responses in its agreement with BFD and the Ada County EMS people tell us they are not sure if they can bill via insurance claims for the BFD assistance.

The GUARDIAN thinks its time for State, City, and County administrators to closely examine the policies of providing services outside the taxing unit’s boundaries. Taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to foot the bill for routine coverage outside their district.

City Councilors should revisit the economics of rural service contracts at the expense of city taxpayers. If hospitals and churches pay for building permits, they should pay for fire service to protect those buildings. County Commishes are obligated to provide EMS ambulance service county-wide, but they should pay for the city fire units that respond outside the city.

BSU and the State of Idaho should take a lesson from the Feds and the U of I and pony up some cash to Boise. It is an unfair burden for Boise taxpayers to protect massive offices and dormitories. If everyone from Sandpoint to Franklin paid just a few cents extra, it would cover the cost of responses to THEIR buildings.

We understand there is no requirement for the tax exempt folks to pay, but “its the right thing to do.”

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. Matt Valdez
    Feb 14, 2013, 6:11 pm

    Yes, Boise FD should be paid for their responses to BSU and the hospitals. However, the larger issue is the bloated BFD budget. The vast majority of their calls are medical. Then you have the false fire alarms and the very, very few structure fires. That is why BFD tried to get their own ambulances a couple of years ago. Improved building codes have essentially put them out of a job. You wouldn’t know it from looking at their three most recent stations, however. Drive by the mansions known as Boise FD station 14, 17, or 15 some time and see where all that tax money is going. 35 million dollars a year so that a fire truck can arrive on scene just before an ambulance. It is a waste.

  2. I say NO FREE LUNCH and at the same time if they can they should respond to the fire or other emergency they can assist in. The people outside the city need to be sent a bill for services rendered at the cost of that service and if they don’t pay get a judgement or lein on their property.

    For way too long people living in the county use city services and pay nothing to use them. There ought to be a surcharge on their vehicle registration for using city streets too.

    EDITOR NOTE–For the most part the issue outside the city is there are NO PEOPLE! The desert east has no property owners to charge for fire service on the highway. Tax-exempt churches, hospitals, and government structures need to pay for protection.

  3. Bingo Matt. But that’s what you get when you have unions running the fire department and the pols beholden to the unions.

  4. Porcupine thinks that the City of Boise is too interested in getting a trolly than to solve this small problem

    Just saying

  5. When someone in my family needs medical attention immediately I am glad the fire unit arrives first. They carry an AED, plus numerous other equipment which can save lives.

    In the situation of the fire truck running to medical calls taxpayers are paying for the ‘what if’ scenario. It does pay off at times, and how do you assign value to it? The truck is expensive, but the convenience of leaving the medical call and going straight to a fire or car accident is worthwhile.

    EDITOR NOTE–LJ, no one really argues your point. The issue here is responding to calls outside the city and getting the non-profits like BSU to pay for the services.

  6. LJ, They can send a couple young, quick, and cheap paramedics out there even faster in the F-350. Big Red and the over-paid should be scaled back…. especially if they are giving away the extras… If holes appear in coverages then add a couple of extra F-350s. The dual services racing to the call is silly, dangerous, and expensive.

  7. I continue not to see the point of fire engines going to 911 calls that are not fires when the paramedics could take care of everything.

  8. Zippo -
    Maybe, maybe not. To do that we would have to buy additional trucks, and staff them. The fire department is already there, why not utilize it and combine the service?

    Mame -
    I worked on an ambulance for several years. We had two crew
    members on each rig, and could handle a lot of calls. We could have handled a lot of them better and quicker if we had the FD there to carry gurney, or provide the basic life support while we provided the advanced life support.

    (sorry editor, I was originally responding to what Matt commented)

  9. As for the original point of the story – why should the tax payers be on the line for what happens on the unincoporated parts of the interstate? Couldn’t it be somewhat of a user based fee system? I know they wouldn’t always get paid, but at least it could be more fairly enforced.

  10. LJ, Because FIRE is fat and expensive. Ada EMS is not.

    The big cost is not the trucks, it’s the pay and bennie obligations. You guys are building a house of cards with the shift of moneys into pay and bennies over the years.

    So CUT FIRE and add Ada EMS if/where needed. Stop building and staffing a new firehouse every time Mormons build a new church. For huge saving we’d be minutely slower in some zones. Big trucks to medical calls is also dangerous to the other drivers.

  11. Zippo said:
    So CUT FIRE and add Ada EMS if/where needed. Stop building and staffing a new firehouse every time Mormons build a new church. For huge saving we’d be minutely slower in some zones. Big trucks to medical calls is also dangerous to the other drivers.

    I agree. Mame

  12. People of Boise unfortunately are cluesless what Boise previous fire chief and the new chief worked out. In 2000 because of Boise annexations, Whitney would have had to disolve if Boise didnt come to the rescue. Fire Chief in Boise during 2000 decided that a chief wasnt needed when the Whitney chief retired 4 months after the agreement.

    Whitney commissioners requested that Boise add more Battallion chiefs to cover the additional responsibilities. 2-3 captains were promoted to Battallion chief with an average cost of 120,000 per person each year. In 2007 when there had been more annexations, Whitney area was 3 miles x 3 miles. Boise Fire chief retired and to help him get another retirement the Whitney commissioners appointed him as Fire chief. He is paid 62,000 a yr plus bennies and a vehicle. The only person that is not a Boise firefighter is a part time secretary.

    As of last December, he had accummulated the 5 yrs needed for an additonal retirement. He oversees no firefighters just this secretary which the commissioners really oversee. When the Whitney station on Overland road was closed a new station had been built on S. five Mile and Hollander. Now here is the real kicker, from the time Whitney was consolodated with Boise an approximately 7,000-9,000 gallon water tender was manned out of the station on Hollander due to lack of hydrants. Because of money issues this water tender was only manned if additional manpower was availaable.

    On march 11th of 2012 a fire was at a residence at the 10,400 block of West Estate drive off five mile road. The first in engine company would have been the one at Hollander and S. five mile, but they were on a medical call. This area is in the city but still doesnt have the hydrants available. The first in engine got on scene and were out of water very fast as depending on the fire engine only carry 500-700 approx gallons of water. Additional alarms had to be called, taking crews from the area of Ustick and McMIllan, engine from 16th and front, meridian units also were called.

    So does it make sense to have a fire chief that has no firefighters under him or a water tender? Well you guessed it the ex-Boise fire chief stayed and tender was shut down. This information is available and retrieved under the Fredom of information act. If you get information you will also find that from 2003-2011 the two people who filled the fire marshalls office had little or no education of how to run fire prevention.

    The new chief of Boise obtained the rank of captain on Boise Fire and was the lobbyist for the FireFighters of Idaho as its president. In my opinion as I know many citys do not like to promote from within, when the job was held so long by someone who worked his way up the ranks, as it becomes the good ol boys club. If anyone wants to verify my position, getting copies of the contracts will show this is how Boise Fire has operated.

    And I will testify that unless you word your request telling them where to look, Boise fire will do as little as posibile to provide your requests. Another big cost is how many city cars go with the employed home at night, I will be conservative and say 14-18, I asked that question but instead of an answer of this amnt they sent the maitenance reports of each vehicle and redacted all info except showing which division it comes from.

    The number of fires has not increased since taking in Whitney and North Ada but management has grown. Boise FireFighters need management that looks out for the firefighter and the public. Look where there new headquarters is, almost to the Boise and Meridian border.

  13. Dave, you don’t even know how well areas not annexed to Boise but covered by North Ada and Whitney, I.e Hidden Springs were North Ada’s area for fire and med calls. With the closing of N Ada’s station on Chinden blvd this leaves Boise to cover all fire agreements N Ada had, so a fire in hidden springs would take station 2 on Cartwright, station 9 on Sycamore and the one station by the fairgrounds and a Boise ladder company, Battallion chief. This leaves the part of north end, highlands With fire/med calls left to Station 5 on 16 th st, station 1 on Reserve to respond if all things are perfect and not on some other calls. If you look at Boises management it has added positions and don’t show that Whitney and North Ada have fire chiefs with no firefighters to manage with a cost of a 100,000 each that should be going into Boise cities revenue. People were upset when the Star fire chief was getting paid after the merger with Eagle for past 5 months. Whitney has been doing this for over 5 yrs. Is there some person out there who might be running for Boise council who will stop Boise spending our tax dollars like a drunken sailor, would be nice to have such a person to show the public the waste in spending.

  14. Today on hill road about 3 a fire truck passed me near 24th and hill it was coming from station 9 off Sycamore and state. For curiosity I turned around and saw the engine turn left to my area on north mountain. I was told by neighbors that a resident in the neighborhood had breathing problems. Yrs ago before fire station 2 was moved from 17th and Ridenbough to Cartwright road the Northend neighborhood association worried about medical and fire responses and suggested the move should be more logical location near Hill rd and Harrison Blvd. Putting the station closer to Hill rd would meet the mile radius that determines station location as the association gave its ideas to the city, where station 2 is located now, the firefighters get in their truck, stop at Cartwright for traffic, then hit Bogus Basin rd, where again need to stop for traffic and then to their destination, so due to traffic problems response times to the Northend is significantly hampered due to having to start their call off Cartwright rd. timing has shown that if a emergency call comes from 24th and Irene, Boise firefighters from Station 5 on 16th and Grove will beat station 2 to the area.

    If the crew had been in Quarters off Cartwright this call to North mountain would have been their call, but for some reason they didn’t respond. Having station 9 on Sycamore responding basically left a vast area that should another fire or med call happened at same time, the response from another station would take significantly longer than the guidelines that Boise fire uses to place their fire houses. If proper fire management from the Chief down should look at the big picture.

    The use of a vehicle carrying same equipment would have made it to the medical a lot faster than a fire truck would especially going up hills. A few months ago an article was written from interviews with the city the number of fires has stayed the same about one per day. So realistically by using math calculations it’s very rare for a fire to occur in the exact same fire district at the same time as a medical call. So basically having two firefighters responding in a SUV, would make faster response times to a medical and the 3 rd firefighter that was still at the station could respond to a fire call that comes in when a crew was out on a medical call, he could bring the fire truck to the fire scene and when the medical call was over they could respond to the scene. So having a 30,000 dollar SUV used for medical calls and the large sum that fire engines cost would give a longer life for that vehicle. So with about 2 percent of emergency calls being actually fires (370) per year compared to 50-70 percent medical.

  15. Boise Fire Dept does have a bloated budget and it is ridiculous to send a fire engine to a medical call AND more expensive than sending paramedics. It is all about power and protecting their bloated budget. Why not have one consolidated fire dept for the entire county? Sure gets rid of adm costs and too many chiefs! Maybe the County commissioners could consolidate one county fire agency and EMS into one agency to serve the entire county. Dictator-wannabe Dave Bieter wouldn’t like that!

  16. I don’t believe Cynic was being cynical but has hit the nail on the head, too many chiefs, not enough fires. In previous article I showed where Boise has taken over all aspects for fire protection for the areas that Whitney and North Ada previously responded to emergencies in their fire districts. Whitney was taken over in 2000, North Ada which is essentially Garden city in 2011. What Boise Fire doesn’t put in their chain of command is that these two districts still have a fire chief. The most ridiculous and irresponsibility of how tax dollars and fire fees are being used is the case of the Whitney fire chief.

    In 2000 upon takeover of Whitney, Boise fire chief Renn Ross decided not to replace Whitney’s fire chief who retired a few months after the consolidation. In the year 2007 came around Chief Ross retired from Boise, he got the Whitney Fire commissioners to make him Whitney Fire chief with salary and bennies coming to approx 85,000 dollars. The only other employee is a part time secratery, when Ross hits 5 yrs on the job he is entitled to another retirement. The new Boise Fire Chief Dennis Doan should have said there’s no reason for remaking a chiefs position 7 yrs after it was discontinued by Boise Fire Chief Renn Ross and an area of coverage only about 9 sq miles. Now do you think there might have been a little back room chat between Doan and Ross to make this sweet deal to take place where Ross might tell the City Counsel on who he thought would be the best choice to take his spot upon retirement, a little birdie tells me I might be right, but you be the judge and if you think different I would love to know your view why this position makes sense. North Ada also has an administer or whatever they call him who was with the Ada paramedics and the part time secretary.

    Also when Doan got chief he appointed some good ol boys to Fire Marshal and other areas that had very little expierence for those positions. It’s my opinion a chief for Boise fire, should have been done like the new police chief, someone not connected to past management and would make decisions on jobs without the bias of having been on the department.

  17. George, seems like when Boise is running anything, too much money wasted. Good reason for moving all fire under County umbrella and consolidating with EMS. Wouldn’t surprise me though if Boise tries to take over EMS instead and put it under Boise Fire. More empire building

  18. Did the “mattress backs somehow upset the “bullet catchers” why do cops hate firemen so much?

  19. From almost every person that has commented, it agrees most are on the same page as the Boise Fire management does very little to curb costs. Here are other costs that could be done with no impact to the fire service. There are approximately 20-24 fire cars that city allows certain positions to take home at night. 8 in fire prevention, 5-6 in training, 3 in maintenance and that doesnt count the chief, 4 deputies, 2-4 division assnts. Compared to the overall budget each car uses probably one gallon of gas each day.

    The only position that should have a vehicle is the on call fire investigator. To add to the cost some of these people dont even live in the city. Basically 40 gals of fuel per day is used to allow vehicles to go home with the person. using a cost of 3 dollars a gal thats 75 gals a day for a average yearly cost of about 75,000 dollars not counting upkeep for the vehicles. Again these costs are ones management has contol over. Other areas that would save money is eliminating the Fire Chiefs at Whitne and North Ada that are Chiefs with no firefighters, so you can add another 200,000 in savings. Firefighers today are very intelligent and a lot have degrees in a lot of areas where management could pass work assignments that need research to different stations and let the fire guys come up with ways to cut the budget without costing any Line Firefighter a position but could rid management of its top heavy management.

    Last building the fire headquarters to almost the edge of the city limits (west of Maple Grove) means fire crews have to drive clear accross town to deal with staff. The best solution is to let the fire chief go back to firefighting and bring in fresh ideas on cost efficiency and rid the departments wastefull spending in the higher echelon. Its time for a new city counsel person to be elected that doesnt just shake their heads yes when Dave makes a decision. My last commnet that the closing of North Adas station on childen increases the chance for firefighters injuries and deaths and also the public at large

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