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King County Fire Commission 28 debate: Part III
Elbert Reed Angela Stubblefield
Editor’s Note: Angela Stubblefield and Elbert Reed are running for Fire District 28 Commissioner Position No. 2. The two candidates agreed to an in-paper debate. This is the third week and includes responses to questions from the candidates to each other and an editorial question.
Candidate Question: Without reducing service levels, how would you fund the projected dollar shortfall in 2015? Explain rational.
Reed: I put this question to Ms. Stubblefield first; she then later passed it back to me. For the sake of the argument, I believe this question assumes the levy lid lift (Proposition No. 1) does not pass.
The function of the fire department is to save lives and property. This requires rapid response with the minimum complement of critical resources to achieve the mission. Reducing the number of fire fighters or increasing response time will save money, but possibly at the expense of greater property loss or loss of life. The tax payer needs to decide if the gamble is worth the risk. Any scheme that increases response time will negatively affect the rating of the fire department. This will then result in higher property fire insurance rates for tax payers’ homes. Hence, pay it now or pay it later.
Two paid positions can be eliminated during 2015 and this will not immediately reduce the level of service. These staff reductions will need to commence in 2014 in order to be effective in 2015. However, firefighters’ overtime will increase to take up the slack (no free lunch here). Commencing in 2015 additional staff reduction will have to be made, and this amount of reduction cannot be made up with overtime. Thus, service levels will be reduced in 2016.
Some might suggest a greater use of volunteers or an all-volunteer department to maintain the current service levels. Such a plan would require volunteers available 24/7. The current volunteers are very dedicated and we appreciate their contributions. They have regular jobs and are not available during the peak fire/EMS call period of 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. If volunteers have to travel to the station this adds additional delay to the response. This assumes they can leave their place of work on a moment’s notice. Who reading this is willing to volunteer to be on duty and ready for immediate dispatch during the peak period, complete the rigorous initial training, and participate in weekly training sessions? The department has been looking for you, but so far without success.
Stubblefield: I respect the hard earned money entrusted from taxpayers and will not waste your money. My opponent, Elbert Reed supports Commissioner David Hannity’s past and present actions. Like Commissioner Hannity, Elbert also represents the firefighter’s union – not taxpayers. Prior to signing a blank check over to the district, you the taxpayer need to know what the long-term plan is and how your money will be spent. That has not occurred.
Until that plan is presented, here are my tentative painful solutions.
• Drastically reduce overtime. Require commissioner approval first.
• Adjust required training that is conducive to regular hours not overtime.
• Pursue joint teaming with other districts to enhance purchasing power, possible training and other ventures.
• Recruit and revitalize volunteer program. Emphasis on career department has devastated volunteer participation.
• Furlough and reduce administrative staff (if necessary).
• Wild-land State Mobilization response has always been voluntary. To preserve staffing and reduce overtime costs, we will not send career firefighters to these operations.
• Rollback pay increases given over the past 2.5 years.
• Take away the fire chief’s pay increase, saving $50,000 per year. This would also place his pay back in line with comparable-sized districts.
• Sell the transport aid car, if financially feasible.
• Sell the property purchased for $495,000.
Once these painful cuts have been put in place, then reorganize the district by:
• Going to the voters to increase the number of commissioners from the current three to five. This will allow for more citizen input, rather than the potential of just firefighters being commissioners.
• Create a responsible budget and stick to it!
• Set up a capital outlay fund to replace aging equipment. (Currently does not exist)
• Create a reserve fund (Currently does not exist).
• Create a labor relations committee of commissioners. This is not now possible with three commissioners because two meeting together constitutes an illegal quorum.
• Set up a strategic planning commission to do long-term planning.
• Create a finance committee with a part time professional financial director.
What do you believe the minimum staffing is per shift?
Stubblefield: Four career firefighters per shift with two or more volunteer firefighters for evening shift.
Fire Stations are located in the district to provide for a timely response, however, stations that have no staffing provide no response at all and increase taxpayer insurance rates. Presently, most all fire personnel and equipment respond from the downtown fire station. This practice leads to a disproportional level of service between the city and those areas of the District outside of the city. A simple solution (that could start immediately), is to distribute existing staffing and improve responses to the entire district.
Two fire personnel minimums would provide shift at each station. When dispatched, these resources would all respond and converge at larger incidents requiring larger staffing levels such as structure fires, while at the same time, adding additional equipment. The result would be two to three fire engines with a total crew of six. This would be particularly important in those areas of the district that lack fire hydrants. All taxpayers benefit.
Emphasis on the career firefighter program has seriously undermined the volunteer program in KCFD 28. The consequence, whether by design or accident, has increased career firefighter personnel (higher cost) – while significantly reducing volunteer firefighter numbers.
Volunteer fire departments in the nation have been forced to recruit and retain volunteers using new and innovative methods. The “way we have always done things” no longer works.
Reed: The department needs to have a minimum staff of four (emergency medical technician) EMT qualified firefighters per shift. This enables the initial response team to enter a burning building upon arrival. (Note: Washington state law requires four firefighters on the scene before entry is made to a burning structure, unless it is a known that a person is in the burning building.) The four person staffing also enables two concurrent medical aid responses, an increasingly frequent situation. When the initial staff is dispatched, either on-call paid or volunteer staff is called in to backfill at the station. A staffing level of two fire fighters would require either immediate dispatch of firefighters from adjoining districts, or immediate dispatch of on-call paid or volunteer fire fighters. Both situations result in delay to the incident scene.
A fatality in 2008 prompted the increase in staff level to where it is today. Additional staffing was added while the department was part of the city of Enumclaw to enable a three person response. Following annexation, the district further increased staffing to the four person level we have today. Saving lives and property requires a minimal amount of firefighting capacity on the initial response. The current four person staffing meets that need.