Enumclaw Fire approves levy lid lift measure for August election

If approved by voters, the levy would rise from $1.36 to $1.50.

Enumclaw’s population has grown nearly 25 percent since the 2010 census, let alone the increase that’s occurred in local parts of unincorporated King County.

Whether that’s good or bad is fairly subjective — but it can be objectively said that this growth is straining the Enumclaw Fire Department, particularly due to the increased number of calls for department services.

“It’s presenting some challenges,”Chief Randy Fehr said in a recent interview. “It’s identifying a need, and we do need to add some staffing to meet those challenges.”

To that effect, the EFD’s Board of Fire Commissioners voted March 16 to put a levy lid lift on the Aug. 2 primary election ballot. In short, the lid lift will increase the local property tax that fills the department’s coffers.The additional revenue will be used to hire and retain three new firefighters/emergency medical technicians to address rising call volumes and, maybe even more importantly, reduce the number of concurrent emergency calls.


According to Fehr, call volumes to the EFD — which covers 22,500 people the Enumclaw, Mud Mountain Dam, Osceola, Krain, Wabash, and Cumberland areas, a rounded total of 56 square miles — have been steadily rising as the population has increased.

In 2011, there was a total of 1,877 calls. Total calls have risen to 2,613 in 2021, or about a 39 percent increase, and Fehr expects call volumes to continue to rise as the area’s population grows.

The vast majority of these calls are for medical emergencies; department data shows around 75 percent of all emergency calls are for EMS. Fire calls, on the other hand, tend to hover between 2.5 and 3.5 percent of all calls.

Most EMS calls are, maybe unsurprisingly, for older locals. According to 2021 call data, the majority (about 57 percent) of EMS calls were for people ages 65 and above, and about 77 percent if you include those 50 years and older.

Unlike total call volumes, EMS calls have stayed stagnant over the last eight years or so; there were 1,909 EMS calls in 2014, and 1,926 calls in 2021 (the highest number of EMS calls over that time frame was 1,962 in 2018, but EMS calls dropped as low as 1,759 in 2020, following a dip in all call types due to the pandemic, Fehr said).

What appears to be driving the rise in calls, then, are increases in service calls (odor investigations, non-injury assistance, flood control, etc.), series or good intent calls, where an emergency is reported but is unfounded (this is different than a false alarm, where an automatic alarm misfires), and HAZMAT calls (natural gas issues, fuel spills, etc.).

But the rise in total calls may not even the biggest issue local firefighters are facing — that would be concurrent calls, or emergencies that happen when first responders are already dispatched to another crisis.

Concurrent calls have been rising steadily over the last decade.

EFD started tracking concurrent calls in 2014, when only about 373 calls overlapped with another emergency. This has risen to 505 calls in 2021, a 35 percent increase. It should be noted that even just between 2020 and 2021, concurrent call rates rose 25 percent.

It’s the hope, then, that hiring new responders will decrease the amount of concurrent emergencies, or — at the very least — decrease the time it takes responders to leave one emergency to attend another.


A levy lid lift is exactly what it sounds like — lifting a levy to its maximum amount.

For example, because Enumclaw is annexed into EFD’s district, and the department offers both fire and EMS services, it can levy a property tax up to $1.50 per $1,000 in assessed property value ($1 for fire services, 50 cents for EMS).

However, Washington state law mandates that municipalities and public agencies like fire departments can only collect 1 percent more in property taxes than the previous year. That means as property values increase and more people move into the area, the levy rate has to decrease to compensate.

EFD’s levy history is a little murky, but in 2013, the department’s levy rate had fallen to $1.19. A ballot measure that year asked voters to raise the levy back to the $1.50 maximum, but this measure failed spectacularly with nearly 64 percent of district residents rejecting the lid lift. This resulted in two layoffs, reducing EFD’s daily minimum staffing to three responders.

EFD’s luck turned around in 2016, when the levy had fallen to $1.02 and a lid lift measure passed with close to 53.5 percent of the vote. This prevented the department from laying off another two firefighters and further reducing daily staffing; instead, EFD was able to hire responders and bring daily staffing back to four.

Part of the 2016 lid lift measure stipulated the district couldn’t run a similar measure for another six years — which brings us to the present.


The current fire levy sits at $1.36 per $1,000 in assessed property value. Approving the ballot measure this August, as stated above, would return the levy rate to $1.50.

According to EFD, those additional 14 cents would increase the property taxes of someone with $500,000 in assessed property value from $680 a year to $750, a $70 increase.

This is another six-year measure, meaning the department can’t run another lid lift until at least 2028.

All in all, this property tax levy makes up roughly 80 percent of EFD’s operating revenue every year.

Lifting the levy rate will be enough to hire three new firefighters/emergency medical technicians, Fehr has said. Doing so would increase daily staffing at the department from four responders to five, which would benefit district residents in at least two ways.

First, if the levy passes and a fifth responder is on duty every day, the department could keep both a fire engine and an ambulance ready to roll out 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Currently, because only four responders staff the department daily, there’s no one to man the fire engine if two EMS calls come in, meaning the department has to rely on another agency to respond.

With a fifth responder on duty, this means that the engine — which is able to do everything an ambulance can, except transport a patient — can respond to an aid call, rather than a second ambulance. According to Fehr, this would allow responders to react immediately to a fire emergency while out in the field for a medical call, rather than having to return to the station to man the engine.

Second, an engine with three responders can perform confirmed rescues during a fire.

Under Washington state law, it is illegal (not to mention extremely unsafe) for firefighters to enter a burning building without backup. On the books is the colloquial “two in, two out” rule, which stipulates two responders can enter the building if two others remain outside and available to rescue the crew inside if anything goes wrong.

However, if responders can confirm a rescue inside an engulfed building and immediate action is required to prevent serious injury or save a life, only one responder needs to remain outside while the other two enter.

Fehr said that his career firefighters are often aided by volunteer firefighters, but added that most volunteers work normal day jobs and can only help during the night.

The additional personnel would also help the department save money. For example, EFD had to pay firefighters more than $200,000 in overtime pay in 2021 due to various factors, a good chunk of those being responders calling out sick. The average Enumclaw firefighter had to work 157 hours of overtime in 2021, EFD Office Manager Ashley Winter said, adding that an average of 22 hours of those were mandatory.

According to Fehr, the department’s first responders approve the hiring of three new employees — even though that means they make less in overtime pay — because that means they will be less overworked.

IAFF Local 3931, EDF’s union, expressed their support of the levy lid lift in a March 18 press release.

“We work in a profession where we can directly see the impact on you – and us – of the decisions made by our elected or appointed officials,” union Vice President Lyle Bellah said. “The members of the Enumclaw Firefighters have been working tirelessly to ensure the best possible service to the residents and visitors to Enumclaw despite long term staffing shortages, an increasing population, and rising call volumes. Resetting the fire levy back to the voter approved previously authorized amount and hiring additional firefighters will help improve the safety of the citizens and firefighters.”

Enumclaw firefighters received chainsaw training with other South King Count department earlier this year. Photo courtesy Enumclaw Fire Department

Enumclaw firefighters received chainsaw training with other South King Count department earlier this year. Photo courtesy Enumclaw Fire Department