East Pierce Fire and Rescue Commissioners approved the upcoming $80 million bond measure for the ballot during their July 17 meeting. A supermajority of voters, or 60 percent, need to approve the measure for it to pass. File photo Ray Miller-Still

East Pierce Fire and Rescue Commissioners approved the upcoming $80 million bond measure for the ballot during their July 17 meeting. A supermajority of voters, or 60 percent, need to approve the measure for it to pass. File photo Ray Miller-Still

East Pierce Fire and Rescue residents, look for $80 million bond measure on ballot

The vast majority of the money will go replacing five fire stations on the Plateau.

The general election is fast approaching, and with it, East Pierce Fire and Rescue’s first-ever general obligation bond measure.

Ballots will be mailed to district residents on Oct. 19, who are given until Nov. 6 to decide whether to approve or reject the department’s $80 million proposal.

The bond should be old news for many residents, as Fire Chief Bud Backer and his staff have made the rounds to his department’s various city residents and their councils to present why the measure is important, and how local residents will benefit from it.

According to Backer, the 20-year bond measure will allow the department to modernize stations and allow them to hire more firefighters and paramedics to keep up with rising call volumes, especially for medical services.

“Unlike other capital projects in this area, you’ll see results of this in just a few short years, as opposed to 20 or 30 years down the road,” Backer told the Bonney Lake Council in July, taking a jab at the controversial ST3 project. “As one citizen advisory person put it, ‘I’ll probably never ride that train, but I’ll be looking up into the eyes of a paramedic one of these days.’”

If a supermajority of voters (60 percent) approve the measure, residents will be taxed an additional 25 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value.

For a home valued at $400,000, this equates to roughly $8.33 a month, or about $100 a year.

WHAT THE BOND FUNDS

The vast majority of the bond money, roughly $71.5 million, will go replacing five East Pierce fire stations.

Station 111, the department’s headquarters in Bonney Lake, will be replaced by a new station almost across the street. This station is relocating, Backer said, because the city of Bonney Lake no longer wants to lease the current building to the department.

A brand-new Station 117 will be built for the Tehaleh area on the corner of Cascadia Boulevard and 181st Avenue East.

East Pierce already owns the land for the new Station 111 and Station 117.

Stations 112 in Prairie Ridge, 114 in Lake Tapps, and 118 in Edgewood will also be replaced due to the age of the buildings — the Edgewood station was built in 1948, and the others built in the 1970s.

Station 112 will be relocated to an area southwest of its current location to better serve Tehaleh until Station 117 is built. Station 114 may also be relocated, due to traffic and sight lines on Sumner-Tapps Highway.

The remaining $8.5 million, Backer said, will go toward re-chassising EMS vehicles.

“The medic units have just been re-chassis. They look bright and shiny today, but by the time we’re done with the first phase of this project building, they’ll need to be replaced,” Backer said during the June 19 Commissioners Meeting, adding that these EMS vehicles have a five-year lifespan due to the high amount of miles they drive.

East Pierce’s remaining stations — Stations 113 in Sumner, 115 in East Lake Tapps, 116 in the Foothills area, and 124 in Milton — may receive upgrades in the future, but those projects are not a part of this obligation bond.

WHY THE BOND IS IMPORTANT

Modernizing the stations, Backer hopes, will allow the department to have room for more first responders and equipment to push against rising call volumes and decrease the district’s reliance on what they call “second-in” units.

Between 2012 and 2017, the department saw a 33 percent increase in call volume without the district getting larger, Backer said.

Just between 2016 and 2017, the department saw an increase of nearly 1,000 calls.

And according to Ed McManamna, a principal architect with the architecture firm Rice Fergus Miller who helped East Pierce put together the capital improvements plan the bond funds, call volume is expected continue to rise.

“Your service area population is going to increase by 37 percent when you look out to 2040,” McManamna said during the July 19 Commissioners Meeting. “What that projected growth in service demand looks like… it’s expected to grow 4 percent per year out to 2040, so that is nearly double than what you’re dealing with right now.”

All these additional calls have affected response time, because first responders find themselves relying more on second-in units to get to emergencies.

A second-in unit is when first responders who’s station is closest to an emergency are already on a call, meaning responders at a station further away are the ones who get on scene first.

During last summer, a medical unit from Graham recently had to respond to an emergency in Sumner “because we had more calls than six stations could do,” Backer told the Bonney Lake Council. “When six stations have eight calls all at the same time, the wheels start coming off.”

According to East Pierce’s 2017 annual report, “second-in” reliance is having a strong effect on response times.

The report, published early September, shows response time has risen from an average of 6 minutes, 26 seconds in 2012 to an average of 7 minutes, 35 seconds in 2017.

Backer said the increase in recent average response times is due to an over-reliance on second-in units.

The report stated the average response time in 2016 was 8 minutes, 42 seconds, but Backer said this was most likely an error, and should be closer to 7 minutes 10 seconds. The correct time couldn’t be confirmed before print deadline.

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