Group Wants to Revive Cabinet View Fire District

By Beacon Staff

A group of Lincoln County residents has approached the county commission about establishing a fire district in the Cabinet View area and will soon circulate a petition. The request comes seven months after the commission dissolved the Cabinet View Fire Service Area, effectively closing the Cabinet View Fire Department.

Although the county’s legal council advised against a meeting because of recent legal issues between the commission and the fire service area board, County Commissioner Tony Berget decided to go ahead and talk to the Cabinet View group. The two sides met on March 13.

“Our attorneys were reluctant about us meeting until everything is resolved,” Berget said. “But we felt we could at least sit down with them and see what they wanted to do.”

John Rios said the group would like to form a fire district and not a fire service area. According to Berget, local fees pay for a fire service area whereas local taxes pay for a district.

Since the county commission dissolved the Cabinet View Fire Service Area last August, the Libby Fire Department has responded to calls in the area south of Libby, along U.S. Highway 2. Rios worries about response time.

“The Libby group is a great bunch of firefighters, but it can take a while for them to get here,” Rios said. “A fire doubles every five minutes and so every minute and every second counts.”

Issues between Lincoln County and the Cabinet View Fire Service Area Board and Cabinet View Fire Department first arose in 2011, when Cabinet View began self-dispatching to accidents and medical emergencies, even though they weren’t licensed to do so. The county said it was a liability and other first responders in the area said the Cabinet View firefighters weren’t qualified to respond to anything beyond structure fires.

The dispute ended up in a Lake County courtroom in the summer of 2012 and in June a judge ruled that the fire department could only respond to structure fires. In August, the county commission dissolved the fire service area after local citizens filed a petition.

Rios said his group has nothing to do with the previous fire service area board.

“We just want to cooperate with the county officials,” he said. “They were very generous with their time and listened to us. It seems like they are willing to help.”

But County Commissioner Ron Downey thinks it is too soon to set up a new fire district.

“It’s still real emotional,” he said. “I think it’s way too soon. I don’t see nothing but trouble.”

Rios said the group is working on finalizing the petition, which should go out soon. Establishing a fire district may also have to go to a local vote, but all involved said it’s too early to know what might happen.

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