DRAPER, Utah (ABC 4 Utah) – Utah’s newest fire department is officially in progress.
This week, the Draper City Council approved a proposal to form its own agency, after withdrawing membership from Unified Fire Authority (U.F.A.) last month, and the city is not wasting any time. Officials appointed a Fire Chief for the new agency, Tuesday night.
“This is a unique opportunity to come in and build a department from the ground up,” said Clint Smith, Draper City’s first-ever Fire Chief.
Now that he has accepted his new role, Smith is busy hand-picking about 45 employees to run the city’s three fire stations. Those facilities currently house Unified firefighters, as part of a contracted membership program.
“Every year, we have an increase in our contract amount… We have to continually budget these increases without the ability to really have any say about what they are,” explained Draper City Mayor Troy Walker.
Walker says long-term, it makes financial sense to break away from U.F.A., but approval for the city’s own fire department does not come without pushback. Critics — including Utah County Sheriff Jim Winder — have argued a locally controlled agency can not afford to provide the same quality of service a contracted one can.
“What Draper City will get is a department that offers them very little control because those costs are going to be costs they’re going to have to pay, and there’ll be no way to defray them,” Winder said during an interview last month.
Draper officials say they are confident the benefits of breaking away outweigh any disadvantages.
“With your own fire department, your firefighters work for you… their loyalty is primarily to your city,” Walker explained.
“It’s not an easy decision to say we’re maybe going to spend some extra tax dollars to facilitate this, but it’s a courageous step,” Smith added.
It is also a step, officials say, Draper’s 45,000 residents have talked about for several years now.
Chief Smith says Draper’s three fire stations should be converted and ready to go by August 2017.