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Sammamish added to fire district

NORTH BEND _ Bright red fire trucks belonging to Eastside Fire

and Rescue, the fire organization that serves the North Bend and

Carnation areas, will now be seen cruising the streets of yet another city.

After months of controversy, the city of Sammamish was

officially added to the consortium of fire departments referred to as "EFR."

"We're excited that all the negotiations are completed and we're

going to be part of the EFR consortium," said Michael Wilson, Sammamish

city manager. "It's a great arrangement for everybody."

EFR Chief Lee Soptich is pleased with the new addition and wants

to reassure residents who are covered by the fire group that everything will

run the same.

"There are some subtle changes about how we do things, but

everything else should stay intact," he said.

EFR now includes the cities of North Bend, Issaquah,

Sammamish, and Fire Protection District 38, which serves the unincorporated

King County area between Snoqualmie and North Bend. Also included is

District 10, which provides service for the unincorporated Pine Lake/Plateau

area and Carnation.

District 38 was the last district to vote, giving its approval at a late

November board meeting. The vote to include Sammamish was unanimous

by all fire board officials of each partnering city or district.

Sammamish established itself as a city one year ago and its officials

had until Dec. 31 to decide whether to create an independent fire department

or contract for services with EFR. The city already contracts with

King County for police services.

EFR courted the new city because it was already providing service

for Sammamish, and officials didn't want to see that tradition lost.

"As District 10 and EFR have been the service provider for that area

for almost 60 years, we looked at that as an important part of what makes

EFR an important organization," Soptich said.

In addition, Sammamish contributes $3.2 million of EFR's $14

million budget — money that would be lost if the city went its own way.

The new contract still allows Redmond's Fire District 34 to

protect the north end of Sammamish because it can provide quicker service,

Soptich said.

This agreement is much like EFR's subcontract with Snoqualmie to

provide fire service for an area that its trucks can get to more quickly.

Because of the vote, Fall City's Fire District 27, which worked

cooperatively with EFR, will not respond to any calls in the Sammamish

area. Officials said fire trucks from District 27 went to Duthie Hill, but that area

is also covered by EFR, and there was no need for the overlap in service.

Another difference in the contract is that it's been extended from

what was originally five years to seven.

"Sammamish wanted long-term stability, and obviously we are all

for that at EFR," Soptich said.

EFR started two years ago when officials from Issaquah and District

10 decided to start a cooperative firefighting effort, and then

included North Bend and District 38. It has taken time to iron out problems,

but the addition of Sammamish, as well as the two-year extension, is proof

for some officials that the fire consortium is on the track to success.

Feelings were different in April after longtime Fire Chief

James Rankin abruptly resigned and Issaquah officials said they wanted

to separate from EFR. Some of the controversy was linked to talk of

adding Sammamish.

One reason some EFR board members were hesitant about adding

the new city was that the Sammamish City Council had talked of wanting

fire trucks with their own logos, instead of EFR's. This would

mean Sammamish would be the only member to have a separate logo,

which launched debates over whether other cities should also have

individual logos.

Another point of the controversy over Sammamish was that it had

a lower levy rate — the amount of money that would be contributed

to EFR — which made board members wonder if the city would be paying

less for more services, and would therefore get special treatment. After

several meetings and weekend retreats, the organization managed to keep

all of its members.

"It's a far cry from where we were a year ago — a year ago we were

wondering if EFR was going to fall apart," Soptich said.

Sammamish's fire trucks will display EFR's logo and the levy has

been reworked to be fair for all partners.

"Everybody's contribution was based on District 10's levy

rate," Soptich explained. "Now [the contract] says that the directors will

formulate a new funding model by June 2001."

The model will be based on a number of factors to make each

partner's rates fair, he said. For example, if one partner pays the same amount as

all the rest but has fewer calls for service to that area, that would be an

imbalance.

The new criteria will include the assessed valuation of houses in the

city or district, the number of calls for service, and other items yet to be decided.

"It's a great thing, and I say that for a couple of reasons: It will

ensure that all partners will be comfortable about what they pay for service,

and it should alleviate the resentment over levy rates," Soptich explained.

"Now you're comparing apples and apples. If you have more calls

in your area, you should be paying more," he said.

Soptich added that the benefit of a large fire and rescue organization

is that residents will receive more resources and services for less money.

EFR has its own fire investigation team, hazardous-material

response team and technical rescue group.

EFR has eight actively operating stations and five volunteer

stations, including Wilderness Rim.

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