Fire Chief Nalder's Response to Finn Hill Neighborhood Alliance

  The following letter is from Kirkland Fire Chief Nalder in response to this letter: http://www.kirklandviews.com/archives/31517/

Good afternoon Mr. Morris,

I truly appreciate receiving your letter, dated January 13, 2012, voicing the concerns of the Finn Hill Neighborhood Alliance (FHNA) regarding the elimination of the limited emergency medical response by the Reserve program out of fire station #24. Your proactive approach of sharing these concerns and addressing them prior to the public meeting on January 18th will facilitate focusing on hearing the concerns of the community regarding the siting of the Finn Hill fire station. I also want to thank the FHNA leadership team of Ted Marx, Jeff Hoerth, Jon Pascsal and yourself for taking the time out of your busy schedules to meet with me and discuss fire and emergency medical service to the residents of Finn Hill and the transition of the Reserve program to Fire Corps. I want to assure you that I have also shared your concerns with the City Manager, and we are listening. In this response I would like to confirm the information provided in your letter, elaborate on some of the information provided in your letter, clarify some misinformation that you have heard from other sources and inform you of a new possibility.

Service to the community from fire station 24 prior to January 1, 2012 was limited to emergency medical response during the hours of 7 pm through 5:30 am (10.5 hours/day). The Reserves are trained EMT's providing basic life support until professional firefighter/EMT's arrived from the next closest location (from a station or while in transit). Station 24 was not staffed during the hours between 5:30 am and 7 pm (13.5 hours/day). In comparison, the other five Kirkland fire stations are staffed 24/7/365 by professional firefighter/EMT's who are also trained to respond to emergency medical calls. Additionally they transport patients, respond to fires, many types of technical rescue, public assist and hazardous materials incidents. In between calls they perform life safety inspections and train both independently and with neighboring jurisdictions. You confirmed, the 3 Reserves on duty each evening respond to approximately 150 calls for service per year. To put it in perspective, the 19 professional firefighters on duty each 24 hour shift respond on approximately 7,500 calls per year. The assumption in your letter states that the "Reserves arrive several minutes before the professional firefighters" in the northern part of Finn Hill. Actually, it varies anywhere from the professional firefighters arriving before the Reserves to several minutes later than the Reserves.

Previous budget cuts deeply impacted the City's ability to support the Reserve program or be proactive in emergency preparedness and reducing risk of fire and injuries to the community due to the loss of staff and related budget. The loss of funding for the Reserve program stipend was part of the decision to transition the Reserve program now but, not the only reason. The stipend budget for the Reserve program of $60,000 was eliminated from the budget a couple of years ago. If it were not for Fire District 41 Commissioner’s choice to fund the stipend through December 31, 2011 out of the District Reserve Fund, the program may have been eliminated two years ago. The Fire District 41 Levy was $1.13/$1,000 AV, for which assessment ceased at the end of 2011. In 2012, there will be a levy of $0.14/$1,000 AV which is dedicated to paying the debt service on a $4 million bond issued by Fire District 41 to pay for the Finn Hill fire station. The debt levy will only be in place until the debt is retired (up to 10 years). This levy is only to be used for costs associated with the Finn Hill fire station. There is a similar bond levy that is assessed to the residents of Kirkland outside of what were the Fire District 41 boundaries for the debt of the already built Forbes Creek fire station. Finn Hill residents are not assessed that levy. While there have been other budget cuts to the fire department over the past three years, specific budget cuts having impact on the decision to transition at this time included the elimination of the fire department Community Education Specialist, an Administrative Assistant position was eliminated in October 2011, who in addition to other fire department responsibilities, was responsible to maintain and process timecards, manage stipend payroll, maintain training and certification records, process licenses and accounts payable for the Reserve program. The ongoing cost to maintain the Reserve program includes but is not limited to Aid Unit maintenance and replacement, equipment maintenance, medical supplies, liability insurance, training and certification costs and the time of a professional fire Captain to oversee the operational functions of the program. An additional cut to the fire department budget of $1.7 million occurred in the 2011-2012 budget. This would have translated to the De facto reduction of 8 firefighters. Implementation of a medical transport fee program saved those positions. Additionally, the City Emergency Management Coordinator was eliminated at the beginning of 2011. The position was extended utilizing federal emergency management grant funding through October of 2011. City Council approved funding the position through June of 2012 utilizing state liquor licensing tax revenue. If the at-risk revenue the City will receive through the annexation sales tax credit is reduced and additional grant funding is not received, the City's ability to re-establish these positions will be difficult. The Fire Corps will be an invaluable resource bridging these gaps created during these difficult economic times and as a much larger resource than possible during better economic times.

Recently, it has been brought to my attention, by the FHNA and the Reserve leadership that the Reserves are willing to continue responding out of station 24 during the evening as they had prior to December 31, 2011. I have requested that the Reserves notify me via email with a written notice that they are willing to continue without a stipend and if they are willing to simultaneously participate in the Fire Corps program. The City has listened to the FHNA voice the desire for the residents in North Finn Hill to continue receiving limited emergency medical response by the Reserves out of station 24. The City is willing to commit the administrative time and costs mentioned above if there are an adequate number of Reserves willing to participate without a stipend. The Kirkland Fire Corps is an evolving program. A meeting is scheduled with the Fire Corp/Reserves, fire department staff and I on January 23rd to continue the planning of how we will be moving forward. All nineteen Reserves had volunteered to participate in the Fire Corps program without continuing as a Reserve. I applaud these individuals for their continued desire to serve the community.

The Fire Corps program will play a vital role in providing emergency preparedness and risk reduction to the entire City of Kirkland. Seven members of the community have signed up to participate in the Fire Corps program since the public notice of the transition from Reserves to Fire Corps and the invitation to participate. This is an immediate 37% growth in the number of volunteers participating in this valuable program. Fire Corps promotes the use of citizen advocates to enhance the capacity of resource-constrained fire and rescue departments. Citizen advocates can assist local fire departments in a range of activities including fire safety outreach, youth programs, and administrative support. Fire Corps provides resources to assist fire and rescue departments in creating opportunities for citizen advocates and promotes citizen participation. Fire Corps is funded through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and is managed and implemented through a partnership between the National Volunteer Fire Council, the International Association of Fire Fighters, and the International Association of Fire Chiefs. There are 42 Fire Corps programs in the state of Washington including Kirkland. Six of those programs are in King County. All of these programs are successful providing valuable service to their community. It is up to the fire department and Fire Corps volunteers to define the role they will play in the community. To this point we have identified the Kirkland Fire Corps will participate in:

  • Public Education activities such as CPR instruction, READY Safety Trailer, Vial of Life Campaign and Smoke Detector Education and Installations.
  • Emergency Preparedness activities such as Map Your Neighborhood, Community Emergency Response Training, Community Points of Distribution and Shelter Worker Training.
  • Support Functions activities such as Emergency Scene Support, Photography, Videography and Social Media Communication.

 

Again, thank you for bringing the concerns of the Finn Hill residents to my attention. Please accept this email as the response to your letter in order that you may share this information prior to the meeting on January 18th so that the focus of the meeting can address siting of the Finn Hill fire station. The City is listening and will be evaluating the possibility of limited emergency medical response by the Reserves from station 24. Do not hesitate to contact me if I can answer any additional questions regarding this or any other issues of concern to the residents of Finn Hill.

Respectfully,

J Kevin Nalder Director Fire and Building Department City of Kirkland WA Office 425.587.3650