The following letter is in response to a news release from the Kirkland Firefighters IAFF Local 2545: Finn Hill versus Kingsgate - Neighborhoods forced to battle for Fire and Emergency Medical Services
One of Bryan Vadney’s jobs as president of the local firefighters union is to maximize the number of firefighters hired, apparently without regard for whether it is in the city’s overall best interests and without balancing the cost against other important priorities.
It’s thus not surprising for him to come in at the last minute of a two-year station siting process claiming that geography is irrelevant, more firefighters are really the answer, and to have “lost confidence” in management who made recommendations based on actual response time and call data.
What is surprising and disappointing, however, is escalating that to stirring up public concern about quality of service, pitting neighborhood against neighborhood, and twisting and selectively using facts, such as the following:
Vadney fails to point out that Station 34 is not and never has been a Kirkland fire station; it belongs to Woodinville Fire and Rescue. It was WF&R’s decision to close it, not Kirkland’s.
Vadney fails to point out that the volume of fire and EMS calls on Finn Hill never have justified having two fully-staffed fire stations on the hill.
Vadney fails to point out that the reason Station 27 handles so many calls is that it has twice the staff and coverage area of other stations in the city.
Vadney fails to point out that Stations 25 and 27 have always responded into areas south of NE 132nd Street even when the buildings and equipment were owned by Fire District 41. City residents have always benefitted from this positioning of assets by FD41. Station 27 would have never been built right on what was then the northern boundary of the city if it was intended to be used only to respond into FD41.
Vadney fails to point out that the $5.2 million transferred to the city from FD41 can be used only for the capital cost of building a new fire station. None of it can be used for staffing. None of it can be used toward an aquatic center, regardless of location.
Building a new fire station along the boundary of northern Finn Hill and North Juanita would not be a “waist” (sic), as Vadney puts it. Dispatch data is clear that dividing Station 27 into two will not reduce overall coverage, but will simply spread it geographically to make it possible for more of the city to be reached by fire and EMS units within national standard response times.
The units in Station 27 already respond into north Finn Hill and western North Juanita; the new station will simply make it possible to reach those areas faster. The units that would remain in Station 27 would continue to respond to calls in Totem Lake and Kingsgate as they do today. The calls currently handled by Station 27 in the area from eastern Finn Hill to the eastern edge of the city would be smoothly divided and balanced between the two stations.
The city plans to also build a new Station 27 east of I-405 so that assets would be positioned to be able to reach the north and east portions of Kingsgate and the eastern portions of Totem Lake even more quickly, to close the gap created when Woodinville closed its station. This would also give us a second station east of I-405 to help people there if a big earthquake collapses the overpasses on I-405 cutting the city in half.
Having three stations spread evenly across the northern half of the city would provide coverage and service levels comparable to the three stations spread across the southern half of the city, not lower levels of service.
As a former commissioner of Fire District 41, I know personally that the goal of the District always was to close the response time gaps on the edges of the district in the most cost-effective way possible. Further study has shown that neither a second station on Finn Hill nor a single consolidated station would accomplish that. Spreading three stations evenly across the northern neighborhoods would.
These proposals are not in any way politically motivated, but driven by the desire to optimize the positioning of fire units to reach the greatest number of people as quickly as possible, using city resources as efficiently as possible as our citizens and taxpayers expect.
The Kirkland City Council knows that public safety is the number one priority of Kirkland residents, and takes seriously its responsibility to maintain a high level of service and provide adequate staffing to meet the need. In December the Council just added $3 million dollars to help complete the new station and another $1 million to provide supplemental staffing at Station 25 until the new station is built. The Council will always step up to keep our residents safe. But that does not require excessive staffing in concentrated locations to accommodate every possible combination of simultaneous events, such that other important priorities in the city would be ignored. The council does not and would not pit neighbor against neighbor, or enact policies that would put the people of the city in danger.
The city will continue to work with all stakeholders, including firefighters, to identify and implement the best solutions to the challenges that face us. We hope everyone will set aside political grandstanding and join in good faith collaboration.
Toby Nixon is a member of the Kirkland City Council, and a former commissioner of King County Fire Protection District No. 41. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.