Washoe Voters Consider Fire Protection Issue

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RENO, NV -- As early voting continues, Washoe County voters are weighing in on how fire fighting services should be provided. Ballot question one asks: "should local governments be required to provide the closest unit emergency response to fire and medical emergencies, regardless of jurisdiction?"

Currently, there is no automatic aid agreement between Washoe County and Reno. If a fire happens in Reno, Reno fire crews automatically respond -- even if a county crew is closer to the fire. County crews are the first responders to fires in the county and outside of city limits. Question one proposes that no longer be the practice, with the closest unit responding.

While Washoe County and Reno do not have an automatic aid agreement, there is a mutual aid agreement. Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District Chief Charles Moore said that means his county crews respond first to fires in the county, but they can call Reno crews for assistance. KOLO asked Moore if having to make that call, slows the response to fires. "The answer is it could," he said.

However, Reno City Councilmember Jessica Sferrazza said while she anticipates most will vote 'yes' for automatic aid, they should vote 'no.' She said that's because Reno taxpayers would end up footing the bill for fighting fires in Washoe County's jurisdiction.

"The City of Reno taxpayers would have to pay more and I think that's unfair," she said.

Sferrazza said she supports the concept of automatic aid, but said who is going to pay for the aid needs to be worked out. She said she is hopeful an automatic aid agreement, even just a temporary one, between Reno and Washoe County can be worked out.

Moore said it is not just a matter of money, but safety.

"If there's a disproportionate share of responses for one jurisdiction or another, there could simply be a true-up process at the end of the year to compensate one agency for its costs," Moore said.

The question being considered by voters was put on the ballot by county commissioners meeting as the Board of Fire Commissioners. The question is advisory only -- it is not binding for public officials.

Sferrazza said she believes the question is designed to "put pressure on the city council."

Several city councilmembers and county commissioners are leaving office after the election -- the issue may be considered by their replacements.