Fire District 1 to implement peak-hour EMS Units

Snohomish County Fire District 1 will begin implementing staffing changes this month as part of a lean 2013 budget that aims to maintain existing service levels, improve efficiency and avoid firefighter layoffs despite declining revenue.

“Our top priority is providing our citizens with the best possible fire and emergency medical service,” Fire Chief Ed Widdis said. “Our new staffing model will allow us to accomplish that by better aligning resources with the public’s demand for emergency service.”

Fire District 1, the largest fire department in the county, expects to respond to more than 19,000 emergency calls this year. The department serves 135,000 residents in unincorporated south Snohomish County and another 60,000 residents in four cities that have service contracts with Fire District 1: Brier, Edmonds, Mountlake Terrace and Woodway.

The staffing changes announced this week will apply only to the seven fire stations in Fire District 1’s unincorporated service area: 156th Street/Station 10, Hilltop Station 22, Hilton Lake Station 12, Lake Serene Station 23, Mariner Station 11, Martha Lake Station 21 and Silver Firs Station 13. The changes will not be implemented at fire stations in the cities of Brier, Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace where each city defines and funds station staffing levels in its service contract with Fire District 1.

Fire District 1 has seen the property tax revenue it receives from its 29-square-mile unincorporated service area drop by 33 percent in the past three years as area property values have declined at an unprecedented rate. This includes a 4.9 percent drop expected in 2013.

“When you lose more than a third of your funding over a three-year period, you need to find new ways to use the resources you have in the most efficient and effective way,” Widdis said.

The result is a new demand-driven staffing plan that features higher staffing levels during the day when 9-1-1 calls are their highest. “We receive more than 60 percent of our 9-1-1 calls during the day. Close to 80 percent of these calls are for emergency medical aid,” Widdis said.

A 24-hour medical services officer will now provide oversight to enhance the quality of emergency medical aid and four two-person emergency medical service (EMS) units will be deployed throughout the district during 10-hour daytime peaks when emergency calls are highest. This will supplement three-person 24-hour staffing that will continue at the seven district fire stations.

Fire District 1 tested the use of a peak-activity EMS unit in 2011 with positive results. Instead of being assigned to a fire station, this mobile medic unit was strategically positioned during the busiest time of the day. During the trial period, the use of this single peak-activity unit resulted in faster emergency response times across an area served by five stations.

“This increased emphasis on demand-driven, dynamic deployment will enable our fire district to maintain low response times,” Widdis said.

Fire District 1 will be adjusting firefighter shift schedules to allow for the peak-hour deployment. Currently, firefighters are assigned 24-hour shifts. Eight firefighters will be reassigned to 10-hour shifts to implement the new peak-demand staffing plan.

“Industries and even other government agencies, such as police and dispatch, staff according to when service needs are the greatest,” Widdis said. “For us, it’s a smarter and more productive use of our workforce to provide better and faster service to our citizens.”

Fire District 1 will also be implementing a peak-staffing plan for battalion chiefs. Staffing will be reduced from two 24-hour battalion chief shifts to one 24-hour shift and one daytime shift. This will result in the elimination of four full-time battalion chief positions. The officers in these positions will be transferred to work on station engine companies.

Last year, the district trimmed 40 percent of its administrative staff and made across-the-board reductions of nearly 12 percent in general fund program expenditures. Eight vacant firefighter positions have also been eliminated and a hiring freeze implemented in 2010 remains in place, which means retiring firefighters will not be replaced in 2013.

“Previous cuts in administration combined with a more cost-effective deployment of our 184 firefighters and paramedics will enable Fire District 1 to continue to respond to emergencies promptly, professionally and effectively even in these tough economic times,” Widdis said.


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