By Justin Franz, 6-29-12
||Caption: The Cabinet View Fire Department is seen near Troy. - Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon
A judge has ordered the Cabinet View Fire Department to only respond to structure fires, the result of a request for summary decision filed in Lincoln County District Court earlier this year.
The June 21 decision was the latest development in an ongoing dispute between the rural fire department and the Lincoln County Commission, which voted on June 13 to dissolve the Cabinet View Fire Service Area within 60 days.
Now the fire service area board and department are gathering signatures to stop the dissolution and deciding how to respond to the judge's decision. Fire Chief Dan Leavell said he was “surprised and disappointed” by Lake County Judge C.B. McNeil’s ruling. The summary decision was made outside of Lincoln County to avoid any conflict of interest.
According to McNeil's ruling, because the Cabinet View Fire Service Area (and Bull Lake Fire District, which has also had issues with the county), was created by the Lincoln County Commission, it had no right to expand its services. In recent years, members of the Cabinet View Fire Department have sought to respond to more than just structure fires, believing it could better serve the area because it is closer than the Libby Volunteer Ambulance Service. But the county threatened the department with legal action because it was not licensed to respond to medical emergencies.
Leavell and others say the department could not get a transport agreement with the Libby ambulance service, which is the reason it is not licensed. But the Libby ambulance service says it has never been approached about the agreement. Leavell added that it’s not the county's job to tell the fire department and fire service board what they can do.
“There is no document in our founding bylaws that says we can only fight structure fires,” he said.
Bill Clark, board chair of the fire service area, said his group expected to meet to decide if it would appeal the decision.
“We asked a question and we got an answer, so we're weighing our options,” Clark said.
But Lincoln County Commissioner Tony Berget said he knew they were in the right. Berget also stood by the idea that relations could improve if there was a change in leadership at Cabinet View.
“We hope that this will help everyone heal the animosity that has been building between the volunteers and that some better leadership will develop within the (two volunteer fire departments) that generated the lawsuit,” Berget said.
Currently the department is following the judge's order and will only be responding to structure fires. If enough signatures are gathered to prevent the service area’s dissolution, a petition must be filed with the county before Aug. 14. It must include signatures from half of the landowners within the fire service area.
Both Clark and Leavell also said another petition is circulating in the area asking the county commissioners to allow the Cabinet View Fire Department to expand its services.
“The community really wants those extra services and you can't blame them,” Leavell said.
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