A long-awaited Fitch and Associates report on City of Edmonds fire and emergency medical services has been released, and it suggests that the city move to a performance-based contract with Snohomish County Fire District 1, with a focus on making services more cost-effective and efficient.
The 20-year agreement contains a contract provision that allows the city and the fire district to revisit it after five years. In January 2015, city officials signaled their intent to do so, following what they say was an unexpectedly large $1.6 million invoice from Fire District 1 that covered retroactive wage increases for the district’s firefighters and paramedics.
Saving money was the primary driving force behind the city’s decision to turn its fire and EMS services over to Fire District, and to sell all of its fire apparatus (engine, aid cars and equipment) to the district. Edmonds did retain ownership of the fire stations and land, and also kept the emergency medical services transportation fees the city charges to residents when they need emergency transport.
Now, with the contract up for renegotiation, the city is looking at how to further reduce costs and improve efficiency. The city hired Fitch & Associates at a cost of $55,000 because Edmonds has limited expertise in providing fire and EMS services.
Fitch and Associates gave a preliminary report of its findings at the Feb. 23 Edmonds City Council meeting. The written report, issued Friday and available for review here, provides more detail, along with four formal recommendations for the city, which include:
4. Establishing performance standards for total response time that “includes all time elements of dispatch, turnout, and travel time.”
In announcing the release of the written report Friday, the City of Edmonds noted that the study found that Fire District 1 “is a high-quality, innovative and professionally managed fire and emergency service organization and is providing efficient and effective services to the community.”
However, the Fitch study did identify “the potential for greater efficiencies and potential cost savings” in three alternative scenarios. These alternatives would “maintain or improve fire and emergency medical service levels, yet redeploy resources in ways that would also reduce costs, ranging from $500,000 to $1,500,000 in annual savings,” the city announcement said.
According to the Fitch report, EMS calls make up nearly 86 percent of Fire District 1’s overall call volume in Edmonds, with fire calls at just 10 percent. Given that statistic, one of the alternatives calls for moving fire service capability away from Station 17 altogether, and instead staffing that station only with two dedicated paramedics. That move could save Edmonds $1.5 million annually — money that could be used to fund other important city services like street repair or additional police officers, or to shore up the city’s reserve fund, city officials said.
“The alternatives offered for our consideration are well thought-out and present real opportunities to enhance fire and medical services in Edmonds as well as reduce costs,” said Mayor Dave Earling.
The report will be discussed at future Edmonds City Council meetings and there will also be opportunities for public feedback. You can read the full report here.