Fire District 1 staffing changes won’t affect MLT, Brier

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firedistrict1_logoAlthough Snohomish County Fire District 1 will be making changes in staffing levels starting this month, no reductions in firefighting personnel in Mountlake Terrace or Brier are part of the changes.

The fire district’s staffing changes announced this week will apply to the seven fire stations in unincorporated service areas. No changes are slated for Fire Station 18, 21206 Poplar Way in Brier, nor at Fire Station 19, 5902-232nd St. S.W. in Mountlake Terrace. Stations 18 and 19 will each continue to be staffed 24 hours a day by three firefighters, at least one of which is an emergency medical technician paramedic.

The seven fire stations at which staffing changes are planned for are 156th Street/Station 10, Hilltop Station 22, Hilton Lake Station 12, Lake Serene Station 23, Mariner Station 11, Martha Lake Station 21 and Silver Firs Station 13. Fire District 1 will implement a new demand-driven staffing plan for these seven stations that features higher staffing levels during the day when 9-1-1 calls are their highest. The goals of the changes are to maintain existing service levels, improve efficiency and avoid firefighter layoffs despite declining revenue.

“Our top priority is providing our citizens with the best possible fire and emergency medical service,” said Fire Chief Ed Widdis. “Our new staffing model will allow us to accomplish that by better aligning resources with the public’s demand for emergency service.”

A 24-hour medical services officer will now provide oversight to enhance the quality of emergency medical aid and four two-person emergency medical service (EMS) units will be deployed throughout the district during 10-hour daytime peaks when emergency calls are highest. This will supplement three-person 24-hour staffing that will continue at the seven district fire stations.

Fire District 1 tested the use of a peak-activity EMS unit in 2011 with positive results. Instead of being assigned to a fire station, this mobile medic unit was strategically positioned during the busiest time of the day. During the trial period, the use of this single peak-activity unit resulted in faster emergency response times across an area served by five stations.

Fire District 1 has seen the property tax revenue it receives from its 29-square-mile unincorporated service area drop by 33 percent in the past three years as area property values have declined at an unprecedented rate. This includes a 4.9 percent drop expected in 2013.

“When you lose more than a third of your funding over a three-year period, you need to find new ways to use the resources you have in the most efficient and effective way,” said Widdis.

Last year, the district trimmed 40 percent of its administrative staff and made across-the-board reductions of nearly 12 percent in general fund program expenditures. Eight vacant firefighter positions have also been eliminated and a hiring freeze implemented in 2010 remains in place, which means retiring firefighters will not be replaced in 2013.

“Previous cuts in administration combined with a more cost-effective deployment of our 184 firefighters and paramedics will enable Fire District 1 to continue to respond to emergencies promptly, professionally and effectively even in these tough economic times,” Widdis said.

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