City Council responds to Firefighters: Public Safety Is Our Top Priority

The following letter from the city of Kirkland Mayor and City Council Public Safety Committee is in response to the Firefighters open letter: A message from the Kirkland Firefighters: Make Public Safety A Priority


As the Mayor and the Councilmembers who make up the Public Safety Committee, we are responding to last week’s message “Make Public Safety a Priority” from the Kirkland Professional Firefighter Union. It would appear that during current lengthy contract negotiations the union is publicly questioning the 2010 budget reduction of a fire department public information officer and decreased public safety education.  Public safety services, especially police, fire and emergency medical response, are fundamental duties of any government and have always been this Council’s top priorities.  Our budgets reflect our commitment.  Fifty-two percent of our operating budget is dedicated to police and fire.  Kirkland residents consistently rate fire and emergency medical services as the top performing critical function we provide.

Even with such public support, the Council has invested heavily in even better fire and emergency services.  In 2010 we spent $14.2 million on fire operations.  Today the Council has increased that commitment to $18.9 million annually.  In 2012 we completed a Fire Strategic Plan to improve service throughout Kirkland.  The Plan contains 94 recommendations.  78% of those recommendations are already completed or are in progress.  Kirkland had 81 firefighters and 2 fire prevention positions in 2010.  After annexation in 2011, even though the City already served the majority of the new neighborhoods, the Council added 9 new firefighters, bringing the total on the line to 90.  We also added two new fire prevention positions (also firefighters), authorized a Fire Protection Engineer in our Building Department, and funded the City’s first ever dedicated City Emergency Manager to prepare us for all hazards and catastrophic events. 

It is true that during the Great Recession we were forced to cut the Fire Department’s Public Information Officer. It is not clear how or why the firefighter’s union links this reduction from five years ago to the two recent tragic deaths. Both of those incidents are still officially under investigation, and in both cases the crews arrived to structures that were already in flames.    Cutting the PIO was difficult, but we made that reduction as part of a successful overall budget strategy that protected direct public safety services to our residents.  Even as deep cuts were made elsewhere, not a single firefighter or police officer was laid off in the Great Recession. 

Over the past five years the City has spent $3.9 million purchasing a new ladder truck, 3 new fire engines, 4 new aid cars and 5 new vehicles for the training and fire prevention divisions.  Since 2010 the City has spent an additional $2.5 million to purchase new breathing apparatus, new personal protective suits and equipment, hydraulic cots for each aid car, thermal imaging cameras for every crew, mobile computers in all vehicles, two new water rescue craft and much more.  This represents our commitment to keep our firefighter/EMTs as safe as possible and among the best paid, best trained and best equipped crews in the region. 

With community support we are investing $5.2 million of former Fire District #41 funds in renovating Station 25 and building a new north end station.  Since 2013, the City Council has also spent $465,000 annually to temporarily fund more firefighter coveragethrough overtime at Station 25 to reduce Finn Hill response times.  That investment proved its value at the deadly Finn Hill fire two weeks ago.  The 4 person crew responded quickly to the call and was able to attack the fire immediately without waiting for other engines to arrive. Unfortunately the resident was deceased when crews entered the structure.  The Council recently passed Resolution 5163, committing to make the additional north end firefighters permanent. 

In 2013 the City completed a Standards of Coverage Study to ensure that every resident was within a four minute travel time of a fire station.  The study recommended a new Station 24 near Juanita Elementary School and a new Station 27 located east of I-405 in Kingsgate.  The City Council has already approved $3.6 million more to acquire properties for these new station locations.  At last week’s retreat, the Council developed a plan to invest an additional $10 million to construct Station 24 and directed staff to return with options for funding Station 27. 

There is always more that can be done to improve public safety in partnership with our firefighters.  As we develop future budgets we will continue to make investments over time and as revenues allow.  We are proud of our firefighters and the service they provide to keep our community safe.  And we are equally proud of our track record of commitment to provide them with the resources to be successful.   

Sincerely,

Amy Walen, Mayor

Penny Sweet, Councilmember, Public Safety Committee Chair

Dave Asher, Councilmember

Toby Nixon, Councilmember