Lynnwood hopes to cut fire costs by teaming up with Fire District 1

LYNNWOOD — The Lynnwood Fire Department and Snohomish County Fire District 1 may combine some services.

Officials with both agencies say they haven’t discussed a merger yet, but they also haven’t ruled out the possibility.

Fire departments and districts throughout the county have struggled to maintain service while revenues from property taxes have dropped. Lynnwood officials approached the fire district in the fall and asked if the two could work together to save money, Fire District 1 commissioner Millie Judge said.

So far, they’re talking about combining administrative areas such as computer service and vehicle maintenance, she said.

“We do intend to talk about fire and EMS (emergency medical service) in upcoming meetings,” she said.

The two agencies have met about four times in the past few months, Fire District 1 Chief Ed Widdis said. They expect to meet more frequently as the talks progress.

Lynnwood’s meetings with Fire District 1 are an extension of the plans to form a regional fire authority in south Snohomish County, Lynnwood assistant fire chief Tod Gates said.

For about a year now, seven cities and two fire districts have talked about creating a fire authority to provide fire and emergency medical service for most of the area between Everett and the Snohomish-King county line. The agencies participating in the talks have not yet committed to join the fire authority if it comes to fruition.

The fire authority must be approved by voters, and the earliest that could happen is next summer.

Lynnwood and Fire District 1 wanted to do something beneficial in the meantime, Widdis said.

Fire District 1 is the county’s largest fire district, serving most of unincorporated southwest Snohomish County, in addition to Edmonds, Brier, Mountlake Terrace and Woodway. The district attempted a merger with Snohomish County Fire District 7, but those talks fell through in early 2011.

Meanwhile, Lynnwood’s finances have been sinking for years. Budgets for the police and fire departments have taken hits.

The fire department has made significant cuts but hasn’t laid off any firefighters, Gates said.

That’s likely because the city received a $634,468 federal grant this past summer to fund four entry-level firefighter positions.

The grant says the city cannot lay off any firefighters until 2013 — unless it first lays off the grant-funded positions. The city could apply for a grant waiver, but it also could be forced to repay any spent grant money.

That means the city would have to lose five firefighters to cut the cost of one salary, Gates said.

There is no timeline on the talks between Lynnwood and Fire District 1. Likewise, people at both agencies say the discussions are too preliminary to provide cost estimates.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com

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