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Fire, EMS regionalization focus of meeting
ARLINGTON — After a study was commissioned near the end of last year to explore how fire and emergency medical services in North Snohomish County might work together in the future, the results and recommendations were released on Thursday, Sept. 5, during a special meeting of the Arlington City Council in the Byrnes Performing Arts Center.
Don Bivins, an associate with Emergency Services Consulting International, recommended four operational goals for all seven of the fire and EMS agencies that took part in the joint regional fire services cooperative effort study, including Arlington, Arlington Heights, Darrington, Silvana, Tulalip Bay, Camano Island and the North County Regional Fire Authority.
Bivins advocated a single training division and a single logistics function between the seven agencies, whom he also advised to pool their volunteer services and create peak activity units.
“By sharing and centralizing your resources, you minimize duplication and standardize your services, which will save you money,” Bivins said. “Through allocation of equipment, you can extend the life of older equipment by sending it to stations that are a little slower.”
Bivins asserted that a shared pool of volunteers between the agencies would avoid them competing for the same people, while deploying teams to “hot spots” made up of one or two members from each agency would reduce the burdens on all of the agencies, allowing them to train without worrying about being on call.
Of the four potential combinations of the seven agencies that ESCI evaluated, Bivins recommended only one, partnering the Arlington Fire Department with Snohomish County Fire Districts 19 of Silvana and 21 of Arlington Heights. ESCI also considered affiliations between the North County Regional Fire Authority and Camano Island, as well as between Snohomish County Fire District 15 in Tulalip and the Tulalip Tribes, and between the North County Regional Fire Authority and Snohomish County Fire Districts 15 and 19.
However, only the combination of Arlington, Arlington Heights and Silvana showed ever-increasing cost savings year after year. The two proposed combinations of other agencies with the North County Regional Fire Authority both showed them going into the red by hundreds of thousands of dollars by five years into the future. While the formation of a regional fire authority between Snohomish County Fire District 15 and the Tulalip Tribes is allowed by Washington state law, Bivins admitted that it would be “too convoluted” to evaluate financially, since the Tribes don’t tax their residents, but they do contribute sizable annual donations.
“They step up, but it’s not something we can factor in, because it’s really insulting to expect people to donate a given amount each year,” Bivins said.
Bivins calculated that the combined levy rate for Arlington, Arlington Heights and Silvana would need to be $1.21 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, which he calculated to be 3 cents lower than Arlington’s current rate and 26 cents lower than Silvana’s current rate, but 51 cents higher than Arlington Heights’ current rate. In return, such a regional fire authority would yield more than $2 million in cost savings by 2018, according to ESCI’s math.
“And this assumes that you’re going into this marriage with no money,” Bivins said. “These financial advantages are on top of whatever dowry you’re already bringing into it.”
Marty Ruffner, vice president of the Arlington Firefighters Local 3728, inquired to what extent ESCI had considered relocations of the fire stations, to which Bivins responded that they had only considered whether the proximity of any two fire stations to one another created an inefficient level of overlap between their coverage zones.
“Have you ever had anyone enter into a regional fire authority and then get buyer’s remorse?” Arlington City Council member Chris Raezer asked.
“I am aware of one client, yes, but they hadn’t asked us to do a study before they entered into the regional fire authority,” Bivins said. “Even then, they didn’t want to undo the arrangement, but to change the levy rate and the levels of service they had promised. I’m not aware of any others. You have members of the North County Regional Fire Authority here. You can ask them about their experiences.”