Could fire services be more efficient?

By Jennifer Gregerson, Council Vice President | May 02, 2012

Since March of last year, the city of Mukilteo has joined a regional conversation about forming a Regional Fire Authority (RFA).

On Wednesday, May 2, the cities and fire districts involved will discuss a plan for service and financing at a 6 p.m. meeting at Snohomish County Fire District 1 headquarters, 12425 Meridian Ave. S., Everett.

This meeting is open to the public. There are important questions about finance assumptions and service delivery that we will discuss.

An RFA is a special purpose district created by a vote of the people. State law provides the framework for cities, towns and fire districts to consider forming an RFA as a way to gain service efficiencies through consolidation while retaining local control.

RFAs currently exist in Kent, South King County, North Snohomish County and Auburn (Valley RFA).

There are seven cities and two fire districts discussing the RFA. Mukilteo is represented on the RFA Planning Committee by Mayor Joe Marine, Councilmember Randy Lord and myself. I serve as chair of the Level of Service Committee.

The RFA Planning Committee has been exploring whether combining resources into a single regional fire department can enhance service delivery, remove duplication, provide economies of scale and provide seamless response.

My committee has examined service delivery in particular. We've looked at the current 46 administrative personnel and are recommending a reduction to 35 for the RFA. I believe this will allow the RFA to provide excellent service and reduce overhead and duplication.

Right now, our proposals keep the firefighters and paramedics on duty every day at the same level – 77 on duty throughout the area.

We should be able to more effectively deploy them, however. For instance, there are two fire stations in the Edmonds and Lynnwood area that are quite close together. We've discussed making one station focused on EMS, with a medic unit stationed there, and moving other firefighters into the other station. This makes for more efficient responses and less out-of-service time.

Right now, our discussion revolves around details of the finance plan and staffing levels. Just like our city, the potential RFA has to balance realities of the funds available and the service desired.

My goal at this point is to ensure we have the best plan possible for the future organization, and then to assess if it makes sense for Mukilteo.

Voters will have the final say, but several tasks need to be accomplished before a measure can be placed on the ballot.

Representatives from Brier, Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mill Creek, Mountlake Terrace, Mukilteo, Woodway and Snohomish County Fire Districts 1 and 7 have taken the first step in the process by forming the RFA Planning Committee.

Over the past year, this committee has been evaluating information and developing plans for level of service, finance, governance and other issues related to regional delivery of fire and EMS.

If feasible, the committee will draft a work plan for establishing an RFA and a ballot measure will be placed before voters. This could happen in the fall of 2013.

The entire potential area of the RFA would serve 352,823 citizens in 115 square miles including six cities, one township and unincorporated communities.

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