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Fire district works toward future

"Don Smith is not looking to spend more of the taxpayers' money this year. He just wants to spend it to make Fire Protection District 3 more efficient, prepared, and representative of South Whidbey's needs.At a special meeting Thursday night, the fire district chief was charged by the district board of commissioners with meeting 10 goals this year -- one of which might even change how the board itself does business.Smith will research the possibility of adding two more members to the present board of three fire commissioners. Both the chief and the current commissioners are interested in taking the step in hopes of making better decisions with the district's $1.4 million budget.The say so of how that money is spent rests on the shoulders of two people, Smith said. Outside of that task, Smith must complete his other goals with an eye on the future. Being ready for that future has almost everything to do with volunteers. Smith said Friday he plans to continue the district's ongoing push to recruit more firefighters and emergency medical personnel. A similar drive this year brought a good deal of new blood into the district, but Smith said the district could always use more.By accommodating volunteers' work schedules with different training times, more people might be able to find the hour or two each week they would need to join the district.In the station houses, the district may be taking better care of however many volunteers it has. Fresh off Y2K disaster preparations, Smith said the district may invest in generators for its stations, as well as food stores for volunteers. The backup power and food could be what the district needs to keep its volunteers going in the event of an island-wide disaster.And then there are the projects that are already under way. Smith will make sure that construction crews break ground on both a new Saratoga fire station and a planned Freeland fire station. The Saratoga station is already more than eight months behind schedule due to permit delays, while the Freeland station was only recently taken off the shelf on its way to a late start.Other goals for the year include holding what promises to be an annual information meeting for district volunteers, searching out future sites for fire district facilities, developing a list of standard operating procedures, and researching the purchase of a new emergency medical response vehicle.And finally, to find out what the public thinks of these goals and the service the district provides, the district may send out a survey sampling opinions on everything from emergency response times to elected representation.Smith said it will take him some months to come up with a list of questions he and the district commissioners want answered by the people of South Whidbey."

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