Fire Commissioner job means long hours, big decisions


Rodika Tollefson, KP News

This year’s elections for the Fire District 16 commissioners have had a stronger interest from candidates compared to the last few elections. In fact, in the last commissioner election, in 2003, Jim Bosch ran unopposed. This year, having three candidates required the district to run a primary election as well.

What makes the job of a fire commissioner so attractive? According to those who’ve been there, it is definitely not the glory.

“The fire service is a good part of our community, so I can see why people are wanting to do it,” said Fred Ramsdell, who has been involved with the fire district for about 40 years as a volunteer and whose term is ending at the end of the year. The races, however, can become quite polarizing, he said. Ramsdell was opposed during his election by current candidate Allen Yanity, who has unsuccessfully run previously.

“In most districts, it’s not a sought-after position,” said former Commissioner Ruth Bramhall, who is still active with the fire district.

“Some people feel they can do a better job than the commissioners in place,” Bramhall said. “It takes a cooperative team of three people to function as a (board).”

Being on the board can be very time consuming, said current Commissioner Rick Stout, a retired firefighter. “I am glad to see other people are interested in running,” he said.

The fire commissioners are the legislative branch of the department, making decisions on how the budget is spent and how the department is run. They also have the hiring authority of the fire chief, and could decide whether to perform an international search or promote from within the district, as was the case with Chief Eric Livingood Nelsen.

At times, the job can get stressful, as controversial issues arise, levies don’t get passed, or promises made to voters  — such as building new fire stations —take longer to fulfill than anticipated.

Commissioners are entitled to be paid per diem for every district-related meeting they attend. That includes the monthly FD-16 meetings, monthly out-of-district meetings, a state meeting held once a year in various cities, educational seminars and other functions. The commissioners get paid accommodations as well as mileage reimbursement. Although not everyone claims all the mileage, most commissioners opt to get the per diem, according to Bramhall. State law allows commissioners to be compensated up to $70 per day when a meeting or similar business function is held. The local commissioners are far from the yearly allowed limit of $6,720, according to the department’s Christina Bosch. Commissioners are also able to apply for insurance through a pool that offers special rates.

“You don’t get rich on it, that’s for sure,” Bramhall said.