Incumbent Eric Hollis and Brandon Bothwell both have their eyes on a Position 2 seat for King County Fire Protection District 27.
Hollis has lived in Fall City since 1994 and has served as fire commissioner since 2004. He is an attorney, small business owner, and former maritime and naval officer.
Bothwell is a paramedic and firefighter and began his career volunteering in a rural fire district. He fought wildland fires during college, and began at Bellevue Fire about 16 years ago.
If elected, what would be your budget priorities?
Hollis: I was first appointed and then elected as a Fall City Fire Department (King County Fire District 27) commissioner in 2004. Our department has grown significantly since 2004, adding five additional full-time firefighters, completing a major remodel of the fire station and many upgrades to our vehicles and apparatus, during my tenure. In 2004 we also started staffing the fire station 24/7, with full-time firefighters, augmented by volunteers. Every three years the department is audited by the State Auditor’s Office. Each audit since 2004 has resulted in near perfect marks from the state. Our fire department has historically been careful with taxpayer money, only asking for and using what is really needed. Our fire chief has a long storied tenure with the department — he runs a tight department and has the admiration and respect of all other departments in the region.
Eastside Fire and Rescue is a partnership of North Bend, Issaquah, Sammamish, Fire District 10 and Fire District 38. Each of these entities has its own district board or city council, comprised of several elected officials. The Eastside Fire and Rescue board is comprised of eight members appointed from the partnership members’ boards. Fire District 10 has two seats on the Eastside Fire Board.
In 2017, Eastside Fire’s Chief approached our board about a potential merger of Fall City Fire into District 10. This merger would have mitigated some of District 10’s loss of revenue when Klahanie was annexed into the city of Sammamish and would have helped Eastside have a more contiguous area of coverage, eliminating part of the area Eastside Fire doesn’t control, now covered by Snoqualmie Fire and Fall City Fire. The merger was sold as a way for Fall City to eliminate what Eastside Fire perceived as budget and staffing concerns. I opposed the merger, believing that we needed a complete and unbiased analysis of proposed options for our department’s future. That evaluation process was never completed, and we were not able to validate any of the financial information in Eastside Fire’s merger proposal because the back-up data didn’t exist. There was no compelling financial or operational reason to merge when our Fall City Fire has and continues to be a strong sustainable fire department. By staying independent the voters of Fire District 27 also retain control over our local fire department instead of having it diluted by membership in Eastside Fire.
My budget priorities include: Creating a sustainable three-person duty crew 24/7, including hiring a 12th firefighter; a revised and effective training program; making sure our crews have the equipment they need; ensuring we maintain our strong financial position. I would also like to complete our financial forecast in preparation for a 2021-24 replacement maintenance and operation levy vote that would continue funding for these priorities along with a reasonable and affordable tax rate for our residents and businesses.
Bothwell: We need to stabilize revenue sources and create a consistent three-person, 24-hour staffing model. Currently, our commissioners don’t have the experience and ability to properly locate resources with current assets. We have gone many months with current staffing levels, but without consistent three-person, 24-hour per day staffing. The current plan was putting four firefighters on shift during the day, but only two at night. This places our firefighters in danger and is not appropriately protecting our community.
We currently pay our firefighters 7 percent less than neighboring departments, and we are going to lose our firefighters because we can’t compete with those other departments. Our firefighters are deeply committed to District 27. We need to work with them, not against them, to create a department that attracts quality and long-term firefighters while increasing their knowledge and safety. My opponent is not currently taking this approach.
We also have an inadequate training budget in relation to our overall department budget. We have no budget line item for training coordination. We need to dedicate some hours and money for internal department training as well as cooperative training with surrounding fire departments. We are not meeting our obligations of training our firefighters and I will work my best to fix that.
We need to make sure our firefighters never fall behind in upgrading their equipment as has happened in the past. In September, our firefighters were forced to continue wearing dirty and contaminated clothing after a structure fire, thus exposing our firefighters to cancer-causing agents. This inadequacy would not happen under my watch.
The current plan is to nearly double our M&O levy. Attempting to solve the problem by just throwing tax dollars at this is not the solution. We need to creatively reduce expenses and properly fund equipment replacement. Over-purchasing equipment is currently wasting tens of thousands of dollars per year with current management and operations. For example, the current management wants to fully stock a back-up vehicle with five new breathing apparatus, but we are barely able to keep three firefighters on shift at any particular time. We need to eliminate this waste.
With the failed merger with Eastside Fire and Rescue, what do you believe is the best approach to meet the department’s needs going forward?
Hollis: By voting no to the merger of our Fall City Fire Department into Fire District 10, you, the voters, showed that you continue to support a financially strong and independent fire department. Our voter-approved bond that was used to remodel the fire station in 2004 will be paid off in 2021, shaving some burden off your tax bill. The new fire engine, which is paid for with operational funds, will be paid off next year, freeing up funds for daily operations. We value and will continue our relationships with the Duvall and Snoqualmie Fire Departments through shared staffing, and joint training. We also need to complete the negotiation of a new three-year contract with our firefighters.
Bothwell: My opponent currently has a poor relationship with the firefighters and they do not support him, which means we could lose our most important resource — our firefighters. This lack of support was apparent with the greatly reduced involvement of our firefighters in the Fall City Days parade and activities. We need to strengthen these relationships and create an environment and opportunities that will attract and retain our firefighters. I have the firefighters’ endorsement and will help create an environment for more effective operations and a higher functioning fire department.
What do you believe is the biggest problem facing the district? How would you address this?
Hollis: Our challenge is to keep up our level of service for the most reasonable cost possible. Fall City Fire has met this challenge for 75 years as an independent fire department. We are in a strong position now to continue to provide fire and emergency medical services at a reasonable price. As part of Medic One, our department is integral in providing the best emergency medical response in the world.
By voting for Eric Hollis, you are voting for a strong locally controlled fire department that will continue to provide excellent fire and emergency medical response while being mindful of costs and expenditures.
Bothwell: Fire department leadership. Chief Connor has done a great job for decades, but as his retirement is in the foreseen future, we have no succession plan. The current fire commissioner board has no fire service background or experience. I can provide that experience to carry us into the next chapter for District 27.
Bottom line is that we lack the resources to resolve major incidents and we rely upon mutual aid from other neighboring departments. We must improve our relationships with surrounding fire departments to reinforce cooperative training so that we can work more effectively as a group on major fires, vehicle accidents and water rescues, etc.
I have the full support of the firefighters and decades of experience and education. I will help us buy the appropriate levels of equipment and commensurate with staffing to help eliminate waste. I fully understand who our stakeholders are; both the citizens of Fire District 27 and our firefighters.
With degrees in business administration and fire science, over 20 years of experience as a firefighter, and four years as a local paramedic, I can bring an integral knowledge to our commissioner board that we currently don’t have.
Please elect me as our next District 27 fire commissioner. Please feel free to contact me and I would be happy to discuss the future of Fire District 27.