Firefighters’ thoughts on recent council action l Guest View
Last updated 1/16/2019 at Noon
We would like to address the Mukilteo City Council’s recent decision to terminate the Interlocal Agreement (ILA) with South Snohomish County Fire and Rescue (SSCRFA). It is important to know a little history related to ladder truck and Battalion Chief services in Mukilteo to fully appreciate the potential negative impacts of this decision.
When Harbour Pointe was annexed into the city, the determination was made to staff the Mukilteo Fire Department with full time personnel along with the existing volunteer firefighting force. A 95-foot aerial ladder truck was purchased at this time, in part, to help contain insurance requirements. However, a rising volume of calls for service and a dwindling volunteer force often left the ladder truck unstaffed.
In 2010, the determination was made to exchange the aging ladder truck (to then Fire District #1) for the services of a staffed ladder truck and Battalion Chiefs. So, for the previous 26 years the city has had either its own ladder truck or a contract for a ladder truck responding on the initial dispatch.
There are many single- and multi-family homes and businesses in our city that would absolutely require a ladder truck for roof operations or a rescue from upper levels. And Battalion Chiefs provide a 24-hour a day Incident Command presence at major incidents. There is no argument to be made that both of these services are not absolutely necessary.
There have been a few terribly misguided public statements made recently that state unequivocally that these services we have been contracting for will magically continue through either automatic aid or mutual aid.
Mutual aid has been around for many years and is essentially asking a dispatcher for a specific resource, or in some instances, bulk resources. Requested resources can then respond based on the needs of their jurisdiction at that time.
Automatic aid is a pre-arranged agreement to exchange like resources at any given time of need without the manual request of mutual aid. So, we are able to exchange fire engines and medic units with other agencies since that is all that we have to exchange.
There are no guaranteed responses with mutual aid. There are only guaranteed responses with automatic aid when both jurisdictions agree that the exchange is fair. And responses are guaranteed by the negotiated terms in a contract. It is pretty simple.
Contracting for these services is the only guaranteed way to efficiently receive ladder truck and Battalion Chief services without regionalizing our fire service (like most other agencies our size) or trying to do it all ourselves.
In a recent Mukilteo Beacon article, Fire Chief Alexander eloquently spelled out what some of the options are for doing it ourselves. Almost all of the options will cost more and provide less service.
In 2015, the city received a study through Citygate Associates for a Comprehensive Fire Department Evaluation. It reads, “According to NFPA 1710, 15 firefighters plus a command chief are required for a typical room- and-contents fire in a home in a suburban area. In the county, the regional automatic aid system dispatches a total of 17 personnel. The Mukilteo Fire Department is not staffed to provide the necessary number of personnel for this typical fire. To assure adequate staffing for this typical fire, a complement of personnel, using automatic aid, responding from neighboring fire departments, is required. The City of Mukilteo has a formal contract with Snohomish County Fire District #1 to provide a Battalion Chief and a ladder truck for responses in the city. Additionally, as part of the SNOCOM automatic aid agreement, additional units are assigned on the response. The Department’s on-duty daily staffing is inadequate to assure an immediate response to more than a minor fire risk without using automatic aid to complement the city’s initial response of personnel and equipment.”
From the approximately 400 calls Mukilteo Fire responded to in 1992 to the 2,700 calls responded to in 2018, it is difficult to understand why some councilmembers feel like we need less resources now.