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EFR to end contract with Snoqualmie

SNOQUALMIE - Starting Jan. 1, 2005, the closest ambulance or fire engine for some Valley residents may be in Issaquah.

The Johnson Heights and Tokul neighborhoods, which are in unincorporated King County outside of Snoqualmie, will no longer be served by the Snoqualmie Fire Department for first emergency services after the first of the year. Those areas are located in the Eastside Fire and Rescue (EFR) District 38 service area, which is served by stations in North Bend. Snoqualmie, whose present station on River Street is moments away from both of those neighborhoods, has been contracted out by EFR for the past five years at a cost of $50,000 a year to serve those areas.

Starting the first of the year, EFR will now handle all single-unit response or Basic Life Support (BLS) calls for the Tokul neighborhood, located northeast of the city limits off Tokul Road, and the Johnson Heights neighborhood, located west of 384th Avenue Southeast and north of North Bend Way.

The decision to end the service was made by the district's commissioners after it considered the up to $229,000 shortfall for the operation of the North Bend station. The shortfall will come as a result of a proposed levy that failed last November.

"It was a financial decision," said EFR District 38 Fire Commissioner Steve Parsons. "The ultimate goal is to get that contract [Snoqualmie contract] back in place."

While the crew based out of the North Bend station on Main Avenue will be the primary responder to those areas, there is the possibility of that crew being out on a call when another call comes in. Should that occur, the closest fully-staffed EFR station is in Issaquah. EFR has a station in Preston, but it is staffed by an all-volunteer force that is not always at the station.

For Advanced Life Support (ALS) calls, both EFR and Snoqualmie have a mutual aid agreement, where each commits to helping the other out when needed. Mutual aid calls to other departments are routinely sent out for events such as bad car accidents and house fires where more than one engine is needed.

Snoqualmie Fire Chief Bob Rowe did say that his department will continue to assist EFR with those emergencies since the Snoqualmie department is "on the card," (in line to be called) when a larger emergency occurs. Likewise, when Snoqualmie has an emergency it calls on EFR or King County Fire Protection District No. 27 in Fall City for mutual aid.

Where the confusion lies, however, is how the agreement will look to those dialing 911 for smaller emergencies. Rowe said the city can't guarantee service for calls it does not have a contract to respond to, even if it is the closest station to an incident.

"I can't gift public funds," Rowe said.

While the response times from EFR will be longer for the new areas, EFR Deputy Chief Jon Fallstrom said his department still has a lot to offer the Tokul and Johnson Heights neighborhoods. Since EFR has multiple stations and equipment on the Eastside, it doesn't have to rely on the resources from one station to meet all its needs.

"The beauty about being part of a consortium is that we are able to float stuff around," he said.

EFR still has to meet with Snoqualmie and work out the details of the arrangement. No definite meeting has been set yet, but both sides have said this will have to be done soon since the first of the year will be coming quickly.

There have been talks with North Bend and EFR officials about the possibility of starting a Valley fire department, but officials have been hesitant to commit to anything pending more specific numbers on the cost and scope of such a department.

Ben Cape can be reached at (425) 888-2311 or by e-mail at ben.cape@valleyrecord.com.

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