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Judge rules city of Watson did not violate firefighting contract

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WATSON — A district court judge has ruled in favor of the city of Watson in a civil lawsuit brought against it by the Watson Community Fire Fighters.

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District Judge Dwayne Knutsen dismissed the case in a summary judgment entered Oct. 1. The ruling means that the city of Watson can continue to contract with the city of Montevideo for fire protection services.

The Watson Community Fire Fighters charged that the city was obligated to continue contracting with it for fire protection under terms of a contract reached in February of 1993. The Watson Community Fire Fighters, formerly the Upper Minnesota Valley Fire Association, was created in 1992 as one of the state’s first privatized fire departments. It maintains three trucks with other equipment in the city of Watson, and currently provides fire protection services to portions of several townships in the area.

The Watson Community Fire Fighters brought the civil suit against the city of Watson in 2012. In the lawsuit, the private firefighting organization alleges a breach of contract, stating that the 1993 contract was for a length of 25 years.

In court documents, the city claimed that it and the Watson Community Fire Fighters replaced the 1993 agreement with one-year contracts approved in the following years.

The city produced copies of Fire Service Protection Service Agreements signed by representatives of the two parties and containing changes from the original from the years following 1993.

The Watson Community Fire Fighters termed the subsequent contracts as “billings’’ and argued they did not represent new agreements.

In his ruling, the judge concluded that the city and the Watson Community Fire Fighters had modified the original agreement with subsequent agreements, and that the last contract in standing was from 2011.

Roy Erickson, chief of the Watson Community Fire Fighters, said the 13 members of the department will meet with their attorney before deciding what their next step will be in the matter. He said the organization is willing to negotiate with the city for a new contract, but he did not express optimism that talks would occur in the near future.

He said the Watson Community Fire Fighters will continue to serve the townships with which it currently contracts.

The city of Watson is continuing to contract with Montevideo. There have been no discussions about changing the contract, according to Watson City Clerk Sue Brickweg.

The contract with the city of Montevideo has an annual base fee of $1,385, as compared to a nearly $11,000 base fee under the last contract with the Watson Community Fire Fighters.

There have been two minor fire calls in the city of Watson while the litigation was pending. The Watson Community Fire Fighters were mistakenly dispatched to both, and responded.

Both sides agree that the response time for the Montevideo Fire Department and the Watson Community Fire Fighters is relatively the same. The Watson Community Fire Fighters includes three members living in Watson, and 10 members living elsewhere, primarily in Montevideo.

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Tom Cherveny
Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.
(320) 214-4335
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