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Fire Men
District 6 commissioners

Okanogan County Fire District 6 is run by three commissioners elected by voters served by the fire district. The largest fire district in the county, it provides fire protection services for 350 square miles between Gold Creek to Lost River from stations located in Carlton, Twisp, Winthrop and Mazama. Four paid full-time firefighters and a roster of 35 volunteers work in the district. The fire district is not a part of Okanogan County government and the commissioners answer only to voters, not county officials.

Fire District 6 recently has been in the news because of its plans to build a new fire station just outside Winthrop town limits below Horizon Flat and because of a controversy over merging - either through annexation or by contractual arrangement - Twisp’s fire department with the fire district.

Commissioners serve six-year terms, are paid $100 per month and meet the second Monday of each month at 7 pm. at the Twisp fire station on 2nd Avenue.

These are the three men elected to run the fire district:

photoRoy Reiber

ROY REIBER, 68, of Twisp is chairman of the commission board. He was born in Colfax, graduated from Washington State University and holds a master’s degree in education from Western Washington State University. He’s lived in the valley since 1970, when he arrived to take a teaching job at Liberty Bell High School. He and his wife Kay have two grown children.

Reiber taught chemistry and biology and coached wrestling at LBHS until he retired. The other two fire commissioners and Fire Chief Don Waller were among the 1,200 valley students Reiber has taught over the course of his career, as were three of Twisp’s five town council members and the husband of the town’s mayor. He’s active in Kiwanis and has been an emergency medical technician for Aero Methow since 1988. He has 25 years of experience as a fire fighter with the district. He’s in his fourth term.

Reiber decided to run for fire commissioner in 1988 because “I couldn’t stand what was happening in Twisp,” he told Grist. “The separation of those two fire departments was stupid. The city just plain neglected their fire department. The city never put dollars into equipment,” Reiber added, and its one fire engine “probably went for years without an oil change.”

The town’s substandard fire equipment and lack of volunteer firefighters were cited by the district as reasons it could no longer jointly answer calls with the town’s volunteer fire department; district officials said the situation posed a liability for the district.

At the moment, the district is providing fire protection for the town on a short-term contract that ends in December. The town council is considering extending the contract or putting a proposal on the ballot for annexation of the town’s fire department into the fire district. District voters as well as voters in the town of Twisp would have to approve an annexation.

Reiber said that if annexation occurs, it likely would trigger an increase in the property tax levy rate in Twisp and “taxes probably would go up a little bit.” The tax rate for residents already in the district would not change, he said. As a junior taxing district, Fire District 6 collects 60 cents per $1,000 valuation. “We legally could collect up to $1.50,” Reiber added. Purchases of equipment such as fire engines are funded by low-interest loans from the state, he explained.

The town of Winthrop’s fire services are provided by Fire District 6 under a contract. “We cheerfully would annex both Winthrop and Twisp,” said Reiber.

photoJerry Palm

JERRY PALM, 51, of  Winthrop was born in Lacey and came to the valley in 1975, when he was 15, with his parents. “It was just the neatest thing,” he said of his new life as a rural teenager. He graduated from Liberty Bell High School and took a job with Cascade Concrete. In 1986, he started his own construction business. He’s a former firefighter. He and his wife, Julie, have three children. He’s in his third term.

Palm said he decided to run for commissioner because “we needed a change. We didn’t own any of our equipment. It was all surplus equipment and the district had to borrow money to pay its bills.” So when Fire Chief Waller encouraged him to run, he agreed. The firefighting equipment was so old the district couldn’t sell it, Palm recalled. “We just had to let it go.”

Now the district owns its equipment and has $100,000 in the bank, Palm said. “We started using our money more wisely.” But it took six years to get the district to where it should be to properly fight fires, he added. “It’s been fun doing it but every once in awhile it’s been a challenge.”

Palm’s construction business now adjoins the thickly treed five-acre property just below Horizon Flat outside town limits that the district recently bought from Don White as a site for the new Winthrop fire station. Following the land purchase, two equal portions of land were exchanged between Palm and the fire district. It allowed Palm to extend his property east beyond his building to accommodate more of his equipment on the flat. In exchange, the fire district got a narrow strip of land adjoining Horizon Flat Road that was unusable to Palm but can be utilized by the fire district. Palm did not vote on that transaction, according to Reiber.

The commissioners have not decided how to pay for construction of the new Winthrop fire station, Palm said, but are considering either a property levy lid lift or floating a bond.

The building, which will have six bays for fire engines, originally was budgeted to cost about $5 million. “We think it’s closer to $3 million now,” Palm said. It likely will cost less to build than anticipated because of the depressed economy and because the commissioners are considering having it pre-fabricated and hauled to the site to be erected, he explained. “We want a good, solid building,” said Palm. But, he added, “We’re cutting back as much as we can.”

Palm said he intends to run for another term when this one expires. “I would like to see the building get built,” he said.

photoDarold Brandenburg

DAROLD BRANDENBURG, 48, of Winthrop was born in Wenatchee and came to the Methow in 1968 as a five-year-old child. A former firefighter, certified diver, and high school wrestler, Brandenburg graduated from Liberty Bell High School. He’s owned his own construction company for 25 years. He is in his first term as fire commmissioner. He and his wife Sheila have two grown children. Their son Jordan, 18, died in an accident in 2005; their son Chase, 6, died in an accident in 2006.

Brandenburg said he became interested in firefighting the first time the United Methodist Church burned down. As he watched from the sidelines, “I thought to myself: I could help,” he recalled. The next time that church burned down, he was a firefighter. “I fell through the stairs and Roy Reiber pulled me out.”

Brandenburg is a passionate advocate for a unified emergency response system in the valley. In his view, the ability to provide effective police, medical and fire emergency services is “the most important thing” to have in a community, and he said he’s proud of the high level of training and service offered to valley residents by the fire district. He has “a huge amount of respect” for the people who provide emergency services help to the community, he added.

When a driver recently backed into the gas pumps at Pardners Minimart in Winthrop, the fire department was on the scene in 11 minutes to put out the car fire, Brandenburg noted. “Where do you think these people came from? They drop everything they’re doing in their lives” to help people who are in trouble, he said.

As for the Twisp fire district situation, Brandenburg said: “This problem is here because of the finances.”  He predicted it will become apparent that annexing the Twisp fire department is the best solution. It will make the operation smoother and more efficient, he said. “It just makes sense.”

The goal should be to get beyond the bad history between the two firefighting organizations and build a relationship of trust, according to Brandenburg. This is important if more people are to become volunteer firefighters, he added.

Brandenburg said he expects to run for another term when his current one expires.


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