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Fire District asks for improved communication from city

 

Last updated 3/24/2016 at Noon

Fire District 1 firefighters practice water rescues aboard Marine 16 off the shoreline of Edmonds.

After a 15-month gap in communication between Snohomish County Fire District 1 and the City of Edmonds, district commissioners urged the council to improve communications and view its contractual arrangement as a partnership.

District commissioners said the district will be embarking on two major undertakings this year – hiring a new fire chief and launching a capital facilities plan – and it wants the city’s input.

District commissioners and Interim Fire Chief Brad Reading presented the district’s annual report on Tuesday to the Edmonds City Council, and voiced concerns over the lack of communication between the district and the city.

“When I use the term ‘ours,’ I mean ‘ours,’” Commissioner Jim McGaughey said as he gestured toward city councilmembers. “We are partners in providing fire and EMS services to the community.

“Unfortunately, over the past 15 months, numerous attempts have been made by the district to discuss our contract for services, with no ability to schedule a meeting.”

Councilmembers Tom Mesaros and Adrienne Fraley-Monillas addressed the commissioners’ concerns.

Mesaros said Edmonds’ finance director, Scott James, and city attorney Jeff Taraday were tasked with representing the city during contract negotiations.

The current contract also states that the city and the district should be meeting quarterly, he said, and the city should be holding those meetings.

“Not so much as to look at specific things about the contract, but to make sure communication is open,” Mesaros said, “because when you come to a public meeting and say there’s a 15-month gap, the citizens who count on us for protection wonder what’s going on.”

He said this needs to be solved. McGaughey agreed.

McGaughey said he too was surprised to learn it had been 15 months, but Commissioner Jim Kenney had kept a timeline.

“There were a lot of times when we requested [a meeting], and there was no reply or there was a move to move it down the road and further ahead,” McGaughey said, “so as time went on it moved to that 15-month timeframe.”

He said the city and the district need to meet, per the agreement, in order to keep communication open and transparent.

Fraley-Monillas said the district’s current labor negotiations have been “a major stopping block” to meeting in the last year.

According to Kenney, the district is finishing the mediation process and moving on to arbitration with the labor union.

Fraley-Monillas said it can be difficult to negotiate a contract when the city doesn’t know what it’s negotiating for, but Kenney said the district has provided the city with a range of costs, so it “shouldn’t be too much of a wild card.”

The city has contracted with Fire District 1 for fire and emergency medical services since 2010, and its annual contract rate has been about $6.2 million per year, with an increase in 2013 and 2014 due to labor negotiations.

Fire District 1 staffs three stations in Edmonds – Station 16 on 196th Street, Station 17 in downtown Edmonds and Station 20 in Esperance.

Upon reaching its five-year mark, the city is now able to renegotiate the terms of the contract. The city hired consultants from Fitch and Associates, a national firm that analyzes fire and EMS services, to review the contract, and was presented with three options on Feb. 23.

The Fire District has requested the report. Mayor Dave Earling directed the city attorney and finance director to provide an estimated date for when the study will be made available.

Despite hearing a presentation from Fitch and Associates, councilmembers said they did not have the official report in hand yet either.

McGaughey also requested that the city provide meeting dates and times – soon.

In addition to contract negotiations, Commissioner Richard Schrock said the district would like to include the city in its discussions about the hiring of a new fire chief and the capital facilities plan.

Former Fire Chief Ed Widdis stepped down on March 8. Last year, he announced his plan to retire at the end of 2016, but medical issues prompted him to take an early leave.

“There’s plenty of reasons for us to be communicating, besides just the items that he [McGaughey] outlined,” Schrock said. “There’s these upcoming things on our agenda that we do want to involve Edmonds in, because they’re major, major things. Hiring a fire chief – it doesn’t get much bigger than that.”

Schrock also said the capital facilities plan will involve an extensive study by consultants, be compliant with the state’s Growth Management Act, and “it’s going to be very expensive.”

Schrock emphasized that the district would like to have the city’s input and involvement with both.

To view the district’s report, visit http://www.edmondswa.gov and search for the March 22 council agenda.

Fire District 1 responses in Edmonds for 2015 by the numbers:

81% emergency medical services

6% good intent

5% false alarms

4% service call

2% fire

2% hazardous conditions

Total number of incidents: 5,291

Turnout time

Fire District 1’s turnout time, or time from dispatch until leaving the station, was 2:39 minutes for 90 percent of calls, better than standard by 6 seconds.

Response time

Average response time of first arriving fire engine was 6:49 minutes for 90 percent of calls, 19 seconds short of standard.

Fire District 1 staffs three stations in Edmonds – Station 16 on 196th Street, Station 17 in downtown Edmonds and Station 20 in Esperance.

-Information from Fire District 1

 

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