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Sequim Fire District 3 Faces Challenges

by Lois Krafsky-Perry
for Citizen Review Online

November 22, 2013

Sequim, WA – Budget matters were the primary topic for the Clallam County Fire District 3 Board of Commissioners’ on Tuesday.  The regular public meeting was held on November 19 at the local fire hall on 5th Avenue.  Only one person attended from the public.

The centrally located fire hall gives quick access to the many areas  it services. Firefighters and EMS (Emergency Medical Services) are quick to respond to emergencies as they are dispatched.  As the meeting started, beepers sounded and several on-duty personnel quickly exited the room.

There are several challenges that are facing this  local fire district such as: budget planning, levy planning, personnel issues,need for administrative help, and plans to get more service to the Lost Mountain area, where there are no volunteers. The bottom of Lost Mountain hill is located approximately 8 miles from town and about 4 miles from the small Carlsborg station.

Elected Fire Commissioner James Barnfather, chairman, facilitated the meeting, which started at 1 p.m. Elected board member Richard Houts and Chief Stephen (Steve) Vogel participated.  Elected board member Gary Coffey, vice chairman, was not present.

Houts approved all agenda items, seconded by Barnfather, which were passed unanimously.

Included on the agenda was a  list of seven people,for the paramedic testing  eligibility, with their names submitted stating their test scores. The applicants are: Shawn Evenhus, Ivan Hueter, David Wagner, Nicholas Kosloski, Bryce McGinley, Eric Weeks, and Mark Mullvain.

Houts raised several questions about budget items and other issues. At one point of business,while discussing possible need for a water tender on Lost Mountain,  he said, “I want to be certain we are spending money wisely.”

Last year’s budget of almost $12 million  ($11,613,900.00), is almost spent by  November 19th.  At this time it has reached, $11,115,540, according to Vogel.

The proposed draft budget for 2014 was presented for $7,797,930.00. “When I’m looking at property taxes and budget, I still do not know about boycotts, inflation….”, said Vogel.

A special meeting was held November 12th, with the board to review, discuss, and propose the budget. No action was taken at that time.

[Many citizens  are paying property taxes $1.39 per thousand as well as 50 cents per thousand for EMS, depending on what area they reside, according to the Clallam County Treasurer’s office.]

As business continues as usual, the elected board and department needs to deal with  personnel issues.  Recent events concerning firefighter and EMS Paul Rynearson (40), have caused extra problems.  He has been with the local fire department since 1999.  He allegedly stole a narcotics box containing drugs, and that matter is still under investigation.

Elected board members and the elected fire commissioner are the ones held accountable by their electorate. These recent happenings have placed a large responsibility on them.

A letter dated October 3, 2013,  apparently backed by the elected board and signed by Fire Chief Vogel, was sent to District Staff Members. The letter announced action placing Paul Rynearson on administrative leave until further notice.  The action  didn’t relate to the missing narcotics box, according to Vogel.

After several weeks of  newspaper reports by weekly and daily newspaper reports as well as a KOMO-4 TV  report, this reporter asked questions  after the meeting addressed to  Vogel and assistant chief Ben Andrews, as Chief Barnfather listened but did not enter the conversation.

The local paper ran a story about the charges.  (See PDN)

As I asked what initiated the writing of the letter signed by Vogel,  Andrews expressed that there are laws forbidding them from mentioning the name and discussing, ‘this’.  Vogel said they are acting on their attorney’s request not to discuss it.  He referred to  my questions as to why the paramedic was receiving pay and benefits for two months, after they realized the offenses.  His annual pay and benefits are $84,000 a year.

Since Clallam County Prosecutors now have the information on Rynearson, more action will be determined later.

It is sad that the district is faced with this, at the time of budget planning. This places a huge burden on Chief Vogel who was the one who apparently had to put his name, the only signature, on the letter.

One question to consider: If it is against a law to discuss the personnel situation, then why did the Board allow Vogel to name the person and send a letter to many members of district staff?”


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