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Fall City fire services change shift staffing

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FALL CITY - The agency serving Fall City's fire needs has moved to 24-hour coverage, a move that is expected to contribute to the reasons voters should expect to see a levy increase proposal at the April polls.

Beginning last week, King County Fire District 27 commissioners implemented a 24-hour in-station staffing rotation that will find career firefighters working alongside volunteers.

The revised 24-hour rotation, long a priority among commissioners, was fast-tracked following the district's inability to respond to two alarms on Jan. 31.

"We want to make sure our customers are covered," said District 27 Commissioner Tom Brice.

According to district secretary Melinda Evans, both incidents were medical responses that were handled by nearby agencies.

Prior to the shift change, three career firefighters covered the 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. shift, while the department's 14 volunteers, operating from their homes, staffed the 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift.

Brice said the Jan. 31 evening incidents occurred because not enough volunteers could be gathered, which is a rarity.

With the new shifts at least one career firefighter will be on hand 24-hours a day. A minimum of two career firefighters and the fire chief will fill the day shift. The evening shift will require one or two volunteer firefighters to sleep at the station, Evans said, along with the one career firefighter on watch. Because the station currently is undergoing a remodel that will double its size, volunteers will be sleeping in makeshift beds set up in a meeting room.

The staffing change is among the reasons the district's commissioners recently approved a levy-lid lift election slated to appear on an April 27 ballot.

The proposed lift would increase the current $1 per $1,000 of assessed valuation charged by the district to $1.40 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

According to district officials, the levy lift would allow the district to provide additional firefighters and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) for the new 24-hour shifts. The funds also would help with equipment replacement and inflation costs.

Brice said it is unclear how many additional firefighters and EMTs would be added at this point.

The last time the commissioners lifted the levy lid was in 1982. Over the last 10 years, District 27 has seen a 44-percent increase in firefighting and emergency calls.

Fire District 27 proposed a bond of $2.41 million in 2001 that was approved by voters, but under state law those funds must be used for the construction project and can not be earmarked for operating costs.

Brice said the lift would ensure the growing needs of the district would be met.

"It'll give the customers better response time and better service," said Brice.

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