Cuts to Everett Fire Department staffing would put public at risk

Gone are the days of merely responding to fire and medical emergencies; the modern fire department is an all-hazards response team dedicated to keeping the community safe.

The Everett Fire Department has a history of adapting to the size and needs of the community, through periods of tremendous growth and, unfortunately, through financial decline. We are faced with the challenge of cutting services amid growing demands. We believe further cuts put the public at risk.

As an all-hazards emergency response agency, the department provides the public with critical safety services; 24/7/365 fire response, emergency medical services and transport including basic and advanced life support, technical rescue, hazardous materials, boat rescue, fire prevention services (code enforcement and inspection, plan review and arson investigation), life/safety public education and a variety of supporting services.

In 2014 alone, firefighters responded to more than 22,000 citizen calls for help. Over the last 10 years, calls for help have greatly outpaced available public safety resources. With a population of just under 110,000 citizens, Everett has 28 firefighters in six neighborhood stations ready to respond every day. The mission of the department is the protection of life and property of the citizens of Everett through education, fire prevention code enforcement, and the response of highly trained emergency personnel. In order to keep to our mission, we must be able respond quickly when an emergency happens.

We believe the public rightly expects a first-rate full service fire department to protect the citizens we serve. Voters approved an emergency medical service levy in 2010 that promised to “maintain and improve service.” We think the City Council needs better, accurate information than the recent efficiency study — a $116,000 study that recommends unrealistic cuts to fire and emergency medical service. The study offered zero recommendations or strategies to actually increase fire service and public safety as promised to voters.

When a building catches fire and the firefighters are able to save the adjoining businesses, there is a value to that. The public education and fire inspections that are conducted by our fire prevention office has value. When a citizen calls for a medical emergency and the firefighter EMTs and paramedics are able to respond quickly and save a life, there is value to that. It’s hard to put a cost on all of the value our full service fire department provides to the citizens of Everett. How do you calculate the costs that are saved from these services? Can you put a price on your life or the life of your loved ones?

The city has already made substantial cuts to its fire department. In 2010, the Everett Fire Department operated with a minimum of 35 firefighters on duty each day. The current staffing model drops our staffing level to just 28 firefighters total (daily staffing levels were 25 in 1977). This is a significant reduction in service levels and greatly increases the safety risk to our community and your firefighters.

While Everett is starting to once again replace those lost firefighters, our community has spent the better part of the last five years understaffed by roughly 15 percent.

These proposed cuts will not only negate the recent gains, but also place an even greater strain on the ability of Everett’s firefighters to effectively protect our great community.

Fewer firefighters means slower response times, unstaffed emergency vehicles and increased risk to the public. Whether the fire service is responding to events such as the Oso landslide, the Marysville Pilchuck school shooting or a highway collision similar to Seattle’s recent Ride-the-Ducks crash, we need to be ready to roll when the calls come in.

A core value of public safety is to ensure that we protect all of our citizens in harm’s way. We believe the study recommendations unfairly put the citizens at greater risk. It’s a risk we do not support as first responders.

Paul Gagnon is president of Local IAFF 46, a union representing Everett’s 160 firefighters and paramedics.

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