PORT ANGELES — Questions on fireworks and volunteer firefighters were fielded Tuesday at a voters forum by three Clallam County Fire District 2 commissioner candidates.
Richard Ruud, a 40-year incumbent, joined challengers Keith Cortner and Steve Hopf in the program during the hourlong weekly breakfast-meeting sponsored by the Port Angeles Business Association as the Aug. 6 primary approaches. Ballots will be mailed to voters July 17.
The position has a six-year term that pays $128 a meeting with duties on a three-person board that include passing an operating budget. In 2019, the spending plan is $2.2 million.
The 85-square-mile fire district the candidates want to help steer stretches from the Black Diamond precinct in Port Angeles to the east end of Lake Crescent.
It has 7,102 voters as of Tuesday and does not include Joyce and the city of Port Angeles and Joyce.
Ruud, 92 as of the Nov. 5 general election, is in line to receive a 40-year service award as a commissioner from the state Fire Commissioners Association, finance manager Sandy Babcock said Tuesday.
Referring to himself at the forum as “the old man on the crew here,” Ruud began working at the district as a full-time volunteer in 1954, later serving as a firefighter and the District 2 fire chief.
“My business is to take care of this district,” he said, adding if he’s not elected, the other two candidates could take his place.
Being a fire commissioner “is still my passion,” Ruud said, adding that if he isn’t elected, “I’ll help that person the best I can.”
“We are out on a limb here really,” over fireworks, Ruud said of the fire danger they pose. “We have to control it.”
Ruud said in a later interview that he agrees with positions held by District 2 Fire Chief Sam Phillips and District 3 Fire Chief Ben Andrews.
They told county commissioners Monday there have not been enough fireworks-related fires to support a fireworks ban in the incorporated county (https://tinyurl.com/PDN-FireworksBan).
“I’m not exactly in favor of a ban because I don’t think you can implement it,” Ruud said.
Hopf, 64 as of Nov. 5, was the District 2 fire chief for three years in the mid-1980s when it was a volunteer position.
He is a retired South King Fire & Rescue firefighter-EMT who has lived in the Port Angeles area since 1957.
“My platform is simple,” Hopf said.
“I’d like to make sure I represent the people as well as firefighters as well as the chief.”
Hopf said he would work with the city of Port Angeles and Clallam County officials to control fireworks.
“I would refer to the city and the county council and ask them all for their opinion before I would put my foot down and say no,” Hopf said.
Hopf said in a later interview that he was not aware the Port Angeles City Council had banned personal-use fireworks and favors a ban.
“As housing density continues to get tighter and tighter, it gets to be more and more of a problem,” he said.
Hopf said he was injured fighting a fire caused by fireworks.
“They were fun, especially when we were small kids, but gosh,” he said, saying fireworks fans should “let real professionals” set off displays.
Cortner, 60 on Election Day, called himself “the new guy in the room.” He and his wife moved to the Port Angeles area from Florida two years ago.
An emergency management specialist with Early Alert Inc., an international hazard-risk and emergency management company, Cortner has been a fire chief in Monroe County, Fla., and worked in the Fort Myers, Fla., fire department.
“Obviously, we have earthquakes to consider here and disaster management issues, personnel, staffing, are our stations in the right place, do we have the right equipment,” Cortner said.
Cortner favors doing “a comprehensive assessment and study those things and remain fiscally responsible to the district,” he said.
Fireworks need to be controlled, he said.
“I’m not sure there needs to be a ban,” he said, adding there’s a fire danger “particularly this year.”
Cortner clarified in a later interview that he does not favor “a flat out ban.”
He said enforcement of a prohibition on personal-use fireworks is difficult and stressed community outreach on fireworks safety.
Asked for proposals for attracting more fire department volunteers, who are paid at least $18.50 for each call-out and training session, Ruud said attracting volunteers has become more difficult over the years.
Applicants are concerned about the pay, and many are too busy to devote the time, he said.
Hopf suggested the district “make everything as easy as possible on volunteers as far as a drill time goes” and urged “a little more organization as to how the calls work.”
Cortner urged the district to work more closely with local businesses to give volunteers time off to answer calls during the daytime and suggested considering making high-schoolers eligible to be volunteers, using Florida as an example.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].