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Fire district gives volunteers stipends

"Looking to expand its services and programs without adding more full-time employees to its staff, South Whidbey's Fire District 3 will begin to pay stipends to some volunteers by the end of this year.At their July 13 meeting, the district's three commissioners gave Chief Don Smith the nod for a program that will pay several volunteers wages commensurate with their duties. Smith recommended that the district create four stipended positions that would be filled by volunteers. Those positions are high school volunteer program director, EMS director, special services coordinator, and a floating duty chief position. At present, the district has volunteers who attend to many of the duties of these positions, but Smith said he wants create the stipended positions to make certain the jobs are done consistently and that the people who do them are compensated. As an example, Smith said tending to the needs of the district's growing high school volunteer program has become more than he can handle on his own. He said he is not always available when one of the program's volunteers needs a question answered. In addition, members of the program are asking for more training days than are scheduled for regular volunteers. Someone needs to plan those training days, he said. By having a designated go-to person for the program, Smith said the district can better serve its youngest volunteers.Creating a duty chief position will increase the district's hours of on-duty fire protection. Currently, only Smith, Assistant Chief Paul Bush, and Captain Mike Cotton can act as duty chiefs. Paying volunteers to be on duty during evening hours could stretch staff duty coverage toward 24 hours a day.Smith said he has not yet established a pay scale for the stipended positions, but he did say that using stipends over hiring full-time employees represents a major cost savings. Commissioner Mike Helland agreed.I'm totally supportive of this. You have my blessing, he said.Establishing the stipends did not require a vote from the commissioners. Smith said he will roll the cost of the stipend program into the district's existing budget."

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