Facing a nearly $1 million budget shortfall, King County Fire District 34, unincorporated Redmond’s fire district, plans to reduce staffing at its Union Hill fire station, effective Jan. 1, 2012.
The district will cut three full-time firefighters — through attrition, not layoffs — reducing the number of fire and medical personnel at Station 13 from three to two during each day’s 24-hour shifts, according to Peter Lucarelli, chair of District 34’s board of commissioners.
“There will not be any layoffs,” said Lucarelli, a retired Bellevue fire chief. “The reductions will come through attritions.”
The staffing reductions mean that the two on-duty firefighters will not operate the fire truck at the station, only the medical air car. The firefighters will be able to provide medical emergency services and assist other stations in firefighting efforts because they will be cross trained in medical and fire support, Lucarelli said.
The engine truck will remain at the station, located at 8701 208th Ave. N.E., but will not have enough staff to operate it, said Lucarelli.
Lucarelli said approximately 80 percent of the calls to the station are for emergency medical care and all of the station’s EMT personnel and equipment will not change.
“We feel that going this route, given the budgetary restrictions, still provides services,” Lucarelli said. “And the medical part will have no negative impact.”
After Jan. 1, if there is a fire in the Union Hill area, fire trucks from any of the three other surrounding stations on Redmond Ridge (Station 18), southeast Redmond off State Route 202 (Station 16) and near Ames Lake (Station 14), would respond, Lucarelli said. In addition, the on-duty firefighters at Station 13 would respond in the aid car and help with rescue operations and firefighting, he added.
One of the big reasons the district chose to make staffing reductions at Station 13 was because it is surrounded by other facilities — Stations 14, 16 and 18 — with operational fire engine trucks, Lucarelli said.
King County Fire District 34 operates under an approximate $6.2 million contract with the City of Redmond, according to Lucarelli, providing service for unincorporated areas that stretch from the City of Sammamish to the south, the Snoqualimie Valley to the east and around 132nd Street to the north. The district also serves northern portions of the Avondale corridor within the city limits.
Lucarelli said the nearly $1 million budget shortfall was caused by two major factors:
• Assessed property values in the district falling during each of the last two years and;
• The City of Kirkland’s sizable annexation from King County Fire District 34 has further reduced revenues needed to pay for fire and medical services.
Redmond fire chief Kevin Donnelly, who manages the fire district’s firefighters in addition to the City of Redmond firefighters, said the staff reductions at Station 13 will have “a minimal amount of risk to the community.”
“There will be trained firefighters there and they will respond to calls, but not with engines,” he said. “Engines will come from other stations.”
Donnelly said fire and medical response service in the district and the city will not be compromised, but response service responsibilities are currently being restructured.
“The department is reviewing all of its response times for the stations in the district and the city to optimize our services and minimize risk to the community,” said Donnelly, adding that the district’s cutbacks are nowhere near the scale planned by other jurisdictions, such as Tacoma, which plans to lay off 45 fire department employees.
Donnelly said next spring the city plans to open a new Fire Station 17 on Education Hill, which will help with area response times, Donnelly said.
When Fire Station 17 opens, it will be similar to Station 13 in that cross-trained firefighters/medics will respond in an aid car only, Donnelly said.
Lucarelli pointed out that the engine truck at Station 13 will not just sit there and collect dust. It will be mechanically maintained on a daily basis by the on-duty firefighters, who will also be trained mechanics. That way, it can still be used for training, Lucarelli said.
Also, in the event of a large-scale fire emergency where off-duty firefighters are called in, the fire engine truck at the station would be ready for use, Lucarelli said. And as always, in the case of a large-scale fire, firefighters from surrounding jurisdictions will respond too, he added.