Council approves reduction in fire station staffing, OKs Veterans Plaza construction

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Under the city’s amendment to the Fire District 1 contract, paramedics will be spread across all three fire stations rather than only at Fire Station 17 in downtown Edmonds.

In its final meeting of 2016, the Edmonds City Council Tuesday night made two notable decisions: directing the city attorney to prepare language for an interlocal agreement that will reduce staffing at the city’s three fire stations and approving funding for construction of the long-awaited Edmonds Veterans Plaza.

The fire station staffing decision, to be included in an amendment to the city’s existing 20-year contract with Snohomish County Fire District 1 that is still under negotiation, came after an hour of public testimony by citizens plus a few firefighters. All except one of the approximately 15 people offering testimony were opposed to the staffing reductions, which the city said will save $1.36 million annually and improve efficiencies across the three city fire stations.

Firefighters representing the International Association of Firefighters Local 1828 had argued that the numbers that the city council was relying on to make their decision — contained in a report prepared by consulting firm Fitch & Associates — didn’t accurately represent how fire staff spend their time when they are on calls, and made it seem that they are less busy than they are.

Councilmember Mike Nelson, who made it clear during last week’s council discussion on the matter that he was siding with the firefighters, was the lone no vote on the proposed amendment. “It is always expensive to save lives and it always will be,” Nelson said in a statement prior to the vote. “I believe we should prioritize saving lives over saving money.”

Councilmember Diane Buckshnis reiterated her opinion that the city council’s decision in 2009 to eliminate Edmonds’ Fire Department and instead contract with Fire District 1 was a mistake. The city council decided to review the existing Fire District 1 contract — and hired Fitch & Associates to help — after Fire District 1 commissioners threatened to sever its contract with the City of Edmonds unless Edmonds picked up the Town of Woodway’s share, Buckshnis said.

The fire district has been subsidizing a portion of the contract cost that used to be paid by the Town of Woodway until 2014, when Woodway instead entered into a contract with the City of Shoreline Fire Department.

During public testimony, several people said they would be willing to pay higher taxes for fire services, and one person suggested the idea be put to a public vote — an idea that Buckshnis said she would help with.

“If you are interested in doing a public safety levy, I will lead that charge,” Buckshnis said. “Because I think that’s how we should have done it in 2009.”

Under the original interlocal agreement, the cost of operating the three stations was planned to be split under a formula that had Edmonds paying 77.79 percent of contract costs, the Town of Woodway paying 9.13 percent and Esperance, essentially part of Fire District 1 because it’s unincorporated, paying 13.08 percent.

Staffing at all three Edmonds fire stations now looks like this: Fire stations 16 (on 196th Street Southwest) and 20 (in Esperance) have a captain plus two firefighters who also have emergency medical technician (EMT) training for basic life support (BLS) situations. Station 17 in downtown Edmonds has a captain and two firefighters/EMTs, plus two paramedics on staff around the clock. Those paramedics are sent to all calls throughout Edmonds – regardless of location – that require advanced life support (ALS) services that only they can provide.

The contract amendment proposed adding a third paramedic to join the two paramedics currently on duty and then reallocating one of the paramedics to each of the city’s fire stations, so they can better respond geographically to advanced life support situations throughout the city. Reducing the overall staffing will save the city nearly $1.4 million yearly. (The estimated Fire District contract payment for 2017 is $7,427,818.) This would reduce fire staffing from 11 personnel to nine.

In addition to the proposed staffing changes, the new contract includes several scenarios that would trigger a closer look by both the city and the fire district at the staffing levels to see if future adjustments need to be made.

These triggers include:

– If the unit utilization factor, the time required for fire and EMS calls, exceeds a factor of .25 – or 6 hours out of a 24-hour period. This provision recognizes that fire station employees, who work 24-hour shifts, also require time for other duties, such as conducting fire inspections, as well as eating and sleeping, James said. According to the Fitch & Associates report, this factor currently averages .10 – or 2.4 hours per day.

– If the neighboring unit utilization factor, which measures the reciprocal sharing arrangement among nearby cities to assist each other with fire and EMS services, falls out of balance based on a predetermined mathematical formula. The goal of this trigger, James said, is to answer the question: “Are we being fair in that reciprocal sharing arrangement?”

– If the transport balance factor – which covers the EMS fees received by Edmonds as well as nearby cities who may be providing mutual aid for Edmonds calls – is out of balance, also using a predetermined formula.

Under either of the first two scenarios, a 12-month monitoring period is triggered to determine if the situation is an anomaly or a pattern. Under the third scenario, involving EMS fees, a six-month review is required before any action is taken.

An overview of the plaza design.

When it came time to approve the construction contract for the Edmonds Veterans Plaza, City Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director Carrie Hite explained that the low bidder was K-A General Construction for $290,967.92. That bid was considerably lower those received and rejected by the council in September because they were in the $450,000-$700,000 range — way above the architect’s estimate of $248,683.

Meanwhile, the citizens volunteer committee spearheading the Veterans Plaza fundraising was able to come up with additional dollars, and now has $525,000 available for the project — with another donor willing to contribute $50,000 more if needed, Hite said.

The audience, including veterans attending the meeting, broke out in applause after the construction funding was unanimously approved.

Construction on the Veterans Plaza is scheduled to start in January and be completed in time for Memorial Day in May. Located outside the city’s Public Safety Complex, the project will includes a new stone-clad wall with two waterfall feature elements; related mechanical, plumbing and electrical work; new paving, walls, stairs and handrails; new site furnishings and lighting; modifications to existing planting and irrigation; minor modifications to the existing parking lot and new utility connections.

In a related matter, the council later in the meeting also allocated $4,000 from its own 2016 contingency fund toward the plaza construction. In addition, the council approved two other projects for contingency funding: $9,800 for historic information panels along the Edmonds waterfront and at Yost Park and $5,800 for water quality testing meter for Edmonds-Woodway High School’s Students Saving Salmon group.

Also at the Dec. 13 meeting, the council:

Rondi Nordahl

– Recognized EWHS graduate and Western Washington University freshman Rondi Nordal for her tireless work with the Students Saving Salmon group. Nordal was recently chosen by the Snohomish Conservation District Board of Supervisors as its a 2016 Youth Conservation Leader. (See our article on that honor here.) Those in the council chambers gave Nordal a standing ovation.

– Heard a presentation from the Edmonds Downtown Alliance regarding its 2017 work plan and budget, and approved it unanimously.

– Received a report on the Federal Emergency Management Administration’s updated Flood Insurance Rate Map for the Edmonds area. Of the three flood plains in the city limits,  the downtown area has expanded, the Shell Creek area has shrunk and the floodplain area by Lake Ballinger has stayed the same. FEMA will be opening a comment period on the proposed flood plains, which it has been reviewing nationally, at some point after the first of the year.

– Unanimously accepted $2.45 million in grant funding for construction of the 76th Avenue and 212th Street intersection improvements as well the addition of bicycle lanes alomg76th Avenue West.

The meeting was the last as council president for councilmember Christiana Johnson. The council  will choose a new president at the first meeting of 2016.

— By Teresa Wippel

13 COMMENTS

  1. At the previous council meeting Council Member Buckshnis stated that she didn’t know how the fire department operated, and that’s why she was in favor of the Fitch study. The questions and comments among the council at this current meeting were in obvious light that they did not truly understand what they were voting on, because they had little understand of how the purposed response models will impact the city.
    Council Member Teitzel was commenting that the Fire District could move the staffing, Edmonds no long wants to pay for, to a Mountlake Terace fire house. So that way they are close when needed. Does he realize these services are not free to our neighboring citys, and they would have to pick up our tab? In closing to most of Mrs. Buckshnis comments she refereed to why she was against switching to the district in the first place in 2009, and she feels that if we hadn’t done that then, this wouldn’t be happening now. We didn’t elect you to pout. We elected you to be a problem solver. These comments of the past are not saving our fire service now. Their will be negative impacts of what the six of you voted on, it will impact the lives of those who entrusted you to keep us safe. This will follow you in our political career’s.

      • I second that Brent! I voted against the Mayor in the last election and will continue to do so until he is replaced. I truly feel He and the ‘council’ no longer represent the best interests of their Constituents. What I see happening in Edmonds is the folks entrusted to run our City are more interested in their own agendas and doing what THEY feel is the right thing instead of doing what the People of Edmonds want them to do. The fact that 15 people who gave testimony at the Council meeting were opposed to the Life Safety cuts proves that Citizens of Edmonds want to feel safe and KNOW that in case of emergency, there will be enough ‘hands on deck’ to address the situation. $1.36m is nothing compared to the loss of a life or the loss of someone’s home & possessions and the effect that would have on their life. Maybe if the ‘council’ and Mayor handled the City’s income in a more responsible fashion (I.E. wasting money on Sunset) they would not need to put People’s lives in jeopardy.

  2. I thought the original agreement was intended to leave Medic 17 as is, with 2 Paramedics. The citizens of Edmonds paid and continue to pay for a dedicated Medic Unit with 2 Paramedics. It is proven around the country that fewer Paramedics per 1000 in population have higher cardiac arrest survival rates. It is imperative that 2 Paramedics are on the scene together when lives are at stake. Being on the same page when responding in a Medic unit, is far different than being on scene and waiting for your Medic partner’s arrival 3-6 minutes later, if you are lucky. Decisions are being made by individuals who obviously know nothing about what it’s like to make life and death decisions under extreme pressure. As a simple comparison, commercial airlines fly their planes with 2 pilots. Those pilots work in tandem when a problem arises. I would say that 99.99% of commercial aircraft can be flown by 1 pilot. But when a problem occurs, don’t you want the comfort knowing that you and your loved ones are in good hands with 2 pilots, not 1. When politicians choose to save money over life safety, one must wonder.

  3. Public safety is ( or should be) the first priority of City governance. Saying we should impose a levy to pay for public safety when this Counsel just raised our utility rates at an unconscionable level ( which is City revenue), paying to plan for million dollar projects and studies all the while. We recently had a pedestrian get hit by a car in an intersection that is poorly lighted. We got lectured on wearing reflective gear while walking. Police, fire water, utilities. It is what a city is obligated to do. The levies that didn’t pass, and future ones that likely won’t pass either are no excuse for cutting service ( which is what happened last night). Budgets are about priorities.

    • I imagine those Levies did not pass because Folks like me do not want to provide more money to a Government that spends it frivolously and has no idea how to run a City. Their excuse is; “I had no idea how the Fire Services operate” or “People should be sure to wear reflective gear when walking at night” are unacceptable. Ignorance is not an excuse. If One is running a City, One is obligated to know how it functions.

  4. As a family member of a District 1 firefighter I am keenly aware of their shift duties and what they go through on any given twenty four hour shift. This is a tragic turn of events, dare I say it feels similar to the presidential election outcome. I can not wrap my brain around the fact that anyone would want to save money on emergency response. I fear the repercussions. Since the fire commissioners, who are ELECTED officials and are not fire fighters nor have they ever been, with the exception of one individual from Florida where unions are not supported, gave the city council their information it makes sense only then that they voted the way they did. A commenter on a previous article stated so perfectly that the queen bee never really knows the extent of what her worker bees take care of.

  5. The fire fighters are the ones who do the best for our society. They deserve to be supported and be recognized for their services. What a shame that money savings disregard the tremendous help our fire fighters provide for the citizens in Edmonds needing immediate help!

  6. This issue should have been put to a public vote. The city council should absolutely not be able to unilaterally decide to cut out city’s safety measures. Of course it’s about money, and it’s tragic that lives aren’t worth the cost to protect them to the majority of our council members (6 out of 7). Not Edmond’s finest hour.

  7. Rob Peter to pay Paul. They raise our taxes and cut our services. While they bring on new city staff to work under the council, and give the mayor a raise. Meanwhile Buckshnis has the nerve to bring up bringing this issue to the ballot as another levy. The talking heads continue to blabber and push their own agendas.

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