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Firefighting veterans vie for North Whidbey district position

A longtime fire commissioner on North Whidbey is seeing some competition for his seat in the coming election.

Longtime firefighter Larry Wall is hoping to unseat TJ Lamont, who is finishing his second six-year term on the three-member board overseeing North Whidbey Fire and Rescue.

“I think I have a very substantial experience base behind me and I feel I have a lot to offer the community,” said Wall, 59, who has more than 30 years of firefighting experience with the Navy fire department and North Whidbey Fire and Rescue.

He sees the biggest challenge of the fire district as keeping up with an increasing demand with a shrinking funding base.

Lamont, who has been involved with the fire district for 27 years, is a fiscal conservative who has questioned tax increases and certain expenditures.

“I enjoy working with the fire district. I think it’s important to have someone oversee the fire district without raising taxes,” Lamont said. During the fire district’s budget development last year, he voted against a routine 1 percent property tax increase, which is the most allowed by law without going to a vote of the people. He was outvoted 2-1.

He said he didn’t think the tax increase was necessary.

Lamont also said the quality of training has improved and the fire district has expanded services during his tenure. New services include responding to medical calls, water rescues and a paid on-call program.

The fire district is going through significant changes. The district recently purchased a new building for a headquarters, and officials are busy considering how many stations will remain in operation.

Wall questioned the need for the new headquarters building, while Lamont voted against its purchase.

Wall said the district absolutely needs more administration space but questioned whether the Midway Boulevard building  acquired provides the best space for the district. He said he’s heard negative comments in the community about the district’s purchase but noted the fire district got a good price compared to  constructing a new building.

Lamont voted against the purchase, which is another vote he lost, because the building doesn’t give anything to firefighters or anything tangible the public would see when they call 911.

“I didn’t want to spend a million-and-a-half dollars on an office building,” Lamont said, adding the money could have been better used buying new engines.

Wall wants the fire district to rework its master plan regarding the locations of fire  stations throughout North Whidbey Island.

“We need to look at fewer stations,” Wall said, adding the Heller Road fire station, which formerly housed the administration office, could be consolidated into a more efficient location. He described the station as having a good location but it’s  located near fire stations operated by the Navy base and Oak Harbor.

Lamont said the fire district has already closed one station and officials are possibly looking at closing another near Silver Lake.

He said the fire district has been looking for more revenue to help with expenses. During Lamont’s time in office, officials applied for a grant to buy thermal imagers and the district started billing insurance companies for time devoted to car accidents.

 

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