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City contemplates creating fire investigator position

Sunnyside Police Chief Ed Radder, as well as other city officials, have thought of at least one way to utilize some of the funds coming the city's way as part of the voter approved Law and Justice Tax.

Last night, Sunnyside Police Chief Ed Radder and Sunnyside Fire Chief Aaron Markham addressed the Sunnyside Civil Service Commission, asking for the creation of a new position that will be paid for partly by the fire department and partly through the revenue generated from the three-tenth's of 1 percent sales tax increase. Both chiefs are asking for the creation of a fire investigator position.

Markham explained that the fire investigator position would be someone who would be a qualified paramedic, a member of the local SWAT team and serve as a fire investigator.

Both chiefs told the Civil Service Commission that the idea for the creation of the new position came from City Manager Bob Stockwell.

Markham explained that the new position will not only be beneficial to both the police and fire departments, but it will also mean the fire department won't have to lay off a firefighter. He said the fire department has a firefighter due to return from active duty in Iraq this spring. Although that position is technically funded, another firefighter has been filling in during his absence. That fill-in firefighter position is not funded in the 2005 budget.

Markham said the fire investigator would have specific duties with both the police and fire departments.

On the fire department end, Markham said a fire investigator will help relieve some of the duties that he has as the fire chief. He explained that when the fire marshal position was eliminated in the department, a lot of those duties fell on his shoulders.

"This person would take up some of those duties," Markham said.

He added that the fire investigator will also be able to conduct fire investigations, something that is currently done by detectives with the Sunnyside Police Department.

"It will make the fire investigation process a little more timely," Markham said.

He noted that as it currently stands there are times when the police department can't get someone out to begin a fire investigation for some time, which means that firefighters are forced to try and keep the integrity of the fire scene until a police detective can arrive. The person filling the new fire investigator position would have the jurisdiction needed to start the investigation.

Radder explained that the position of a fire investigator is one he has been wanting in his police department for more than a decade. He added that he thinks it's important for there to be a paramedic on the SWAT team.

"If we use that medic successfully once a year, or once every four years, then it's been a success," Radder said.

He added that the police department is prepared to send this person through the basic law enforcement academy, making the fire investigator a commissioned officer.

"It's not a matter of the police department hiring a fireman," Radder said. Instead, he explained it's a position that would be available to both departments.

Markham said there are currently at least four people in the fire department who are interested in filling the new position. He explained that at this time one of the requirements to fill the fire investigator position will be that the person is already a paramedic, therefore they will only have to go through the law enforcement academy. Radder said the doesn't currently have any police officers in the department who would meet that requirement.

Although both the fire and police departments are still in the early stages of creating this new position, it will have to brought back before the Civil Service Commission and be approved by the Sunnyside City Council, Markham noted that a salary has already been discussed.

Markham said the fire investigator position will likely come with a salary 5 percent more than the top step on the firefighter pay scale and just a little below the top step on the patrol officer pay scale. He added that with EMS pay the fire investigator will likely take home just a little more than a patrol officer on the top step of the pay scale.

He added that the fire department would like to get the new position set up as soon as possible, noting that the firefighter serving in Iraq is due to return to work in May.

When asked by Civil Service Commission members what drawbacks could come with the creation of the new joint position, Radder immediately noted that the only issue could be territorial.

He said the fire department has traditionally taken care of fires, with the police department only stepping in to do arson investigations.

Radder said he sees it as a win/win situation.

He added that if there is a problem, the two departments will have to sit down, face-to-face and talk about it "...like adults."

"We're all on the same sheet of music," Radder said about the creation of a fire investigator position. "All working toward the same thing."

Last night (Wednesday), the Sunnyside Civil Service Commission approved the concept of the fire investigator position, making it possible for the fire and police departments to continue to work out the details of the position.

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