Two Skagit County fire districts are proposing a merger that would form a regional fire authority — the first of its kind in the county.

Skagit County fire districts 4 and 9, which cover Big Lake and Clear Lake, respectively, are proposing a merger that would see the two districts become Lakeside Fire and Rescue.

“RFAs (regional fire authorities) are a good way to combine resources (and) manpower,” said Brett Berg, who serves as chief for both districts. “It will save money in the long run.”

If approved, the RFA will formalize a partnership that already exists between the districts, Berg said.

In 2008, Berg, who was serving as chief for the Big Lake district, took the reins of the Clear Lake district as well. Since then, Berg and employees from both districts have gotten the two districts working, training and responding together.

“On fires, you always need more boots on the ground,” Berg said. “It takes a lot of guys and gals for firefighting.”

The collaboration has improved service in both districts, Berg said.

“Speed is everything in an emergency,” he said. “People have loved the quick service.”

The two districts share not only a chief, but a secretary and training chief as well.

“You now can’t tell a difference on a scene,” Berg said. “You honestly don’t know who’s from what department. We’re doing this so when our Clear Lake guy runs and opens the door on a Big Lake truck he knows right where (equipment is) going to be because it’s where it’d be on his truck.”

As part of the proposal, Lakeside Fire and Rescue would collect $1.15 per $1,000 in assessed property value — an amount that would replace what taxpayers in each separate district currently pay, according to the Skagit County Voter’s Pamphlet.

With that money, Berg said he would be able to add daytime staffing at each of the stations, which will improve response times and efficiency.

Calls for service in each district have been increasing, a trend Berg said he sees continuing with increasing growth in the area.

“I can’t do it with a couple (volunteers) at home during the day,” he said. “That’s not what I can sleep with. I need some extra help.”

If the measure is approved, the three-person boards of commissioners from each district would merge into one six-person board, which would last about a year until one of the elected commissioner’s term expires, Berg said. After that, Lakeside Fire and Rescue would proceed with one five-person board.

Like many area fire chiefs, Berg sees RFAs such as Lakeside Fire and Rescue as a sustainable solution for fire service.

“It’s a thing of the future,” he said. “These small departments have all the mandates of the big departments, and they can’t make it on their own. At the end of the day, is it about us losing our identity, or is it about the client? In your time of emergency do you really care what the name is on the (truck)?”

— Reporter Kera Wanielista: 360-416-2141, kwanielista@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kera_SVH, facebook.com/KeraReports

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