The City of Lynnwood is moving ahead with plans to have formal discussions with Snohomish County Fire District 1 regarding a possible regional fire department.
Lynnwood Fire Chief Scott Cockrum brought the issue to Monday’s City Council work session and the consensus among Councilmembers was that the City should engage in talks with Fire District 1 representatives.
Unlike previous Regional Fire Authority discussions, the scope of these talks would be limited to the City of Lynnwood and Snohomish County Fire District 1, Cockrum said.
“We’re at a place where we need to get some more facts,” Councilmember Sid Roberts said.
Councilmember Van AuBuchon agreed with his colleague.
“This is something we should be looking into,” he said.
The issue of possible consolidation was brought up by Fire District 1 commissioner Jim Kenney, Cockrum said. Kenny asked whether the City had any interest in reevaluating the possibility of bringing the two agencies together. A meeting between City and Fire District representatives was held in April.
Snohomish County Fire District 1 provides service to unincorporated Snohomish County and the Cities of Brier, Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace.
Lynnwood is expected to see significant growth in the coming years and that means changes for the fire department.
“With that growth we have quite a bit of additional needs for the fire service,” Cockrum said.
In looking ahead to the next five years, Cockrum said that in his strategic plan he will be asking a ladder company, a medic unit, the reinstatement of a training officer and additional fire inspectors. The final price tag is $4 million a year. Cockrum noted that the department has not seen any significant growth since the 1990s.
“We have some real costs and some real needs that are coming,” Cockrum said.
In a memo to the Council, Cockrum wrote that “We believe that some of the needed increase may be mitigated through a changed delivery solution.” In his 27-year career, Cockrum said he has generally found that a consolidated fire department is a more efficient department. Cockrum also has plenty of experience with mergers as 16 fire departments became part of the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District during Cockrum’s 26 years there.
“What I know is that I have concerns that the amount of money that we’re going to have available to provide the services that we need may be lower than the services that we need,” Cockrum said.
Cockrum, however, made it clear that he and the City need to go into any discussions with an open mind.
“We want to look at all opportunities and come together and see what we can do together,” Cockrum said.
The Lynnwood Fire Department and Fire District 1 already have some cooperative efforts with training and new protocols. Public Works Director Bill Franz also noted that the City and Fire District 1 are working on a possible interlocal fleet service agreement that could go in effect in 2016.
While she has a number concerns, Councilmember Ruth Ross expects the discussions to be different this time.
“I think it’s really going to be a different conversation this time than in the past,” she said.
Cockrum plans to tackle the major issues and potential obstacles immediately in the talks with the idea that it would be better to know early if possible consolidation simply won’t work out.
“We don’t want to spend two years working on something that has really got nowhere to go,” Cockrum said.
Starting in the 1970s, there have been at least nine attempts to consolidate South Snohomish County Fire services with the most recent in 2013, according to the City.
Lynnwood firefighters support the idea of further talks between their department and Fire District 1.
Speaking on behalf of the firefighters, union president Scott DiBenedetto told the Council that he and his colleagues see talks as an opportunity. DeBenedetto said that the department has faced layoffs and decreased revenues for years.
“For us, it’s an opportunity to look at different avenues so we can provide a stable service moving forward,” he said. “It’s something that we want to explore.”
The plan is for two Councilmembers to join Cockrum and one or two fire department staff members in the talks with Fire District 1. Cockrum added that he would expect to come back to the Council with the results of the discussions by the end of 2015 or the beginning of 2016.
– By David Pan