There was a time in the Valley when protecting one's turf was the primary mission of Valley fire departments. It was that very mindset that killed a Cottonwood-Verde Village annexation drive. Never mind what's best for the community, let's just make sure we protect our fire department. You shuddered at the thought that these firemen fought fires with the carelessness with which they played the game of politics.
It wasn't until his first run in the Valley that former Cottonwood Fire Chief Don Eberle started breaking down some of those political barriers. In time, mutual aid agreements were negotiated between Upper Verde fire agencies. That paved the way to automatic aid agreements. It soon became commonplace to see firemen from several Upper Verde agencies working as a coordinated team with a single chief orchestrating the plan of attack.
When he returned to the Valley following a run with the Glendale Fire Department, Eberle assumed the top administrative post with the Verde Rural. It was time to take up where he had left off. Last Tuesday's decision by voters to merge the Verde Rural and Cornville-Page Springs departments is a real testament to Eberle's skill and political tact in making folks realize that the job of emergency services is a lot more important than individual agencies protecting their turf.
While the merger of Cornville-Page Springs and Verde Rural has been the current focus, there is a bigger picture we all may be asked to consider over time.
Already, fire, ambulance and emergency service professionals in the Upper Verde often act as a single agency because of automatic aid agreements. Those same professionals are in agreement that emergency services could be improved through the creation of a single fire district to serve the Upper Verde.
What's more, taxpayers would benefit because of the corresponding reduction in administrative layers from having multiple fire departments in the Upper Verde. A bigger and supposedly better fire department would provide the Valley with a more desirable insurance rating and reduced costs for homeowner insurance.
Such a merger no doubt will take time. It represents dramatic change and change in itself is a threatening concept to many people. Politically, it's probably best to make this move one step at a time.
A big step in that direction was taken last week with the merger of Verde Rural and Cornville-Page Springs. The two agencies did a splendid job of public relations in teaching voters in those two districts that it's the job that counts, not the individuality of a community having its own fire department.
Let's hope that's the message that continues to be taught as we take the next step in elevating the level of service the Valley receives from these emergency service professionals.