UPDATE: Council member Toby Nixon has written a reply to this letter: LETTER: Response to Bryan Vadney by Toby Nixon
The following is a news release from the Kirkland Firefighters IAFF Local 2545:
Stop the proposed staffing reductions in Kingsgate. The City of Kirkland is considering moving the voter-approved Finn Hill fire station location down the hill into Juanita. Worse, to staff the newly proposed Juanita station, the City will not add any new firefighters. Instead, they plan to take half of the existing firefighters from Totem Lake/ Kingsgate. This means Totem Lake and Kingsgate will have ½ of the firefighters as compared to now. Essentially pitting the two neighborhoods as rivals, now fighting over basic Fire and Emergency Medical Services (EMS).
Recently, City Manager Kurt Triplett described this situation as, "Political," going on to explain, "The Finn Hill Neighborhood Alliance is well organized."
This political pressure has lead the Fire Administration to produce endless maps and erroneous data intended to support a flawed plan that actually makes the problem worse. It defies logic.
For about four years now, residents in the former King County Fire District #41 / Proposed Annexation Area (PAA) have been levied additional taxes for a new fire station- yet to be built. The voters approved $5.2 million to build an additional fire station atop Finn Hill and, or consolidate fire station 24 and 25 into one station; again, atop Finn Hill. The estimated $5.2 million has now ballooned to nearly $11 million. These dedicated PAA tax dollars are positioned to purchase land on the border between what was the PAA and what was previously incorporated Kirkland.
Problem is, only the PAA has been levied taxes for the new fire station, residents in the previously incorporated Kirkland have not. However, based on the station siting residents in the previously incorporated area will benefit greatly given the majority of the emergency calls will respond into the previously incorporated Kirkland. This station site will not create the benefit sought in the original plan.
Prior to annexation, Kirkland's PAA was protected by four Fire Stations, including three fire engines, four aid cars, and a minimum of 13 firefighters. [Station 24- with 2 Firefighters; Station 25- with 3 Firefighters; Station 27- with 5 Firefighters; Station 34- with 3 Firefighters]
Today, after annexation, daily minimum services have been cut to two fire stations and only 9 firefighters. [Station 24-closed; Station 25- with 3 Firefighters; Station 27- with 6 Firefighters; Station 34- closed; not including 1 temp FTE]
With annexation came the promise of improved City services. Unfortunately, while demand for fire and EMS services has been increasing each year, the PAA has experienced a dramatic reduction in fire and EMS service. If the proposed station is built and existing staffing is moved, Totem Lake and Kingsgate will experience a greater than 60% reduction in staffing as compared to the pre-annexation levels. Hardly the promise of improved City services.
This is not an issue of geography or poorly located station, as some have tried to suggest. The Totem Lake/ Kingsgate station is well located. Like an oil well, Station 27 responds to thousands of fire and EMS calls in every direction. The identified gap in coverage is not based upon geography, these response challenges are the result of closing two fire stations and cutting two Aid Units.
A recent City of Kirkland study found the demands on Totem Lake fire station (27) have exceeded maximum daily capacity for service delivery. The study also identified a need for increased staffing to achieve an, "effective firefighting force." Industry experts also explained the burden of, "concurrency of calls." The study identified, at current staffing levels, station 27 cannot meet the demands of thousands of fire and EMS calls. Yet incredibly, Mr. Triplett has proposed cutting existing fire units in the busiest area.
Finn Hill is challenged with approximately 100 calls per year with prolonged response times. Thus, the City was considering one centrally located Finn Hill station or adding a second station in North Finn Hill. But in a last minute switch the station has been moved to Juanita, for reportedly political reasons. In addition, it's rumored these monies may be utilized for the newly proposed Aquatic Center, reported to also be located at the fire station site.
Kirkland Firefighters support maintaining the necessary staffing to serve the Kingsgate, Queensgate, and Evergreen Heights neighborhoods. The study recommends it. We support additional services on Finn Hill, but not if it reduces staffing elsewhere. We support an Aquatic Center. But we do not support building the new fire station until such time as the City can meet its obligation to provide the necessary staffing that comes with it.
The Firefighters have lost confidence in the Fire Chief. In an internal survey, 96 percent of our members found the administration was "slow" or "ineffective of completing their stated goals." Firefighters overwhelmingly rejected the City's new station siting proposal. Worse, 87.5 percent of our firefighters believe the City "is unlikely to change" or "our input has little value."
We are asking the City to not waist $11 million to build a fire station in Juanita if you're going to take fire units and staffing away from others, it doesn't help it only moves a problem. The City's plan will reduce our ability to respond to the thousands of fire and EMS calls in Totem Lake. And it won't address the approximately 100 North Finn Hill calls delayed. Please join us in finding a solution that works for every neighborhood without reducing the current fire and emergency medical service from others. We value the trust you place in us and this is why we cannot support a plan that hurts so many to benefit a few. Politics need to come second to public safety.
Kirkland Professional Firefighters
IAFF Local 2545