‘It’s a ‘have to’’: Napavine fire district looks to pass levy during August election


To hear Interim Chief Gregg Peterson tell it, fire departments are often their own worst enemies.

Whatever their constraints — financial, personnel or equipment — fire crews feel compelled to respond to any call received, regardless of whether the call for help originates from within the district.

When responding to an emergency, Peterson said after a recent town hall meeting to discuss Fire District 5’s upcoming levy, there isn’t an option when the consequences can prove deadly. The day of the open house, Peterson and the department’s medical unit responded to a reported heart attack in Boistfort “because nobody showed up.”

“So our resources, they’re exhausted,” Peterson said.

The call to service has made Fire District 5 the third busiest department in Lewis County, with crews responding to five or six calls a day. And despite his two short-lived attempts to retire, it’s why Peterson hopes voters will continue to fund its regular property tax levy at a rate of $.49 per $1,000.00 of assessed valuation for six years, money that funds emergency medical services.

If passed, the levy would pay for a paramedic “right out the shoot.”

The department also vowed to amend its policies to allow “transport forgiveness” for in-district residents, which means residents would not be additionally billed for transportation if an insurance company has paid.

“We do a lot of getting free stuff around here,” Peterson said of the department's reliance on donated equipment, including basics such as hoses and nozzles. “And it shows.”

For more than two hours, Peterson fielded audience questions that offered a glimpse into the mistrust and uncertainty that residents have about the need for the levy. In March, a former paramedic in the department was charged for allegedly ordering and stealing 1,000 vials of narcotics in 2023, a theft valued at over $5,000.

“You’ve got a lot of damage control to do here,” an audience member said during the town hall style event. “Because there’s not a lot of trust now because of this.”

As police investigated the potential theft, the district temporarily suspended advanced life support (ALS) medical delivery in August before it resumed in December. ALS delivery is provided when a patient is in critical condition and a paramedic is required to assist in the treatment of the patient before or during transport to an emergency facility.

The audience also asked questions about the department’s search for a fire chief, after the district’s board of commissioners terminated a contract with Brent Adams, who was hired in January of this year. The decision led to the return of Peterson, who retired as chief in 2016. Peterson also served as interim chief from June 2023 to Adams’ hiring in January of 2024.

Adams was let go without cause.

“We’re trying to really change the perception of this district,” Fire Commissioner Mike Goodwillie said. “We didn’t want to be combative with our public. We didn’t want to be combative with the people we do business with. And we went in a different direction.”

The district’s current fire levy sits at $.321 per $1,000.00, an annual tax of $193.15 on a $600,000 home. At a $.48 rate, the homeowner would pay $294 per year on a $600,000 home.

If unsuccessful, money from the general fund could potentially support the ALS program for another year before “a decision would have to be made.”

If the levy fails, Peterson envisions a future attempt.

“I don’t think it’s a choice,” he said. “It’s a ‘have to.’”