No one was more impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic than first-responders, Snoqualmie Tribal Councilmember Christopher Castleberry told audience members seated in front of the Snoqualmie Casino.
While most were sheltering in place, he said, members of Eastside Fire & Rescue were braving the front lines, helping the Tribe facilitate a community vaccine clinic that saved potentially thousands of lives.
So when there was an opportunity to give back, by providing first responders with more resources to help the community and stay safe, “it was something we really took seriously,” Castleberry said.
That opportunity became a new grant-purchased emergency aid vehicle, which Tribal leaders unveiled for the first-time during a ceremony on May 4.
The high-tech ambulance is being lauded for bringing significant upgrades in community safety and furthering a successful partnership between the Tribe and fire agency.
“This partnership we’ve developed is something I’ll always take with me and cherish,” Castleberry said. “I’m honored to be here today and will be honored to see this driving around our community.”
The Tribe purchased the ambulance using funds from the Indian Community Development Block Grant, a pandemic-era program created by the 2021, federal American Rescue Plan Act that included $280 million for native communities.
Funding for the ambulance was awarded to the Tribe in early 2022, when the Omicron variant was causing COVID-19 case numbers to reach record-highs.
It is the first ambulance owned solely by the Tribe and will be added to EF&R’s fleet, serving both the Tribe’s reservation and neighboring area. The vehicle features a design from Snoqualmie artists Rhonda Spencer and Taylor Cameron.
EF&R Deputy Chief Will Aho said they are honored to be partners with the Tribe.
“Community is so important to all of us. It’s about protecting everyone,” he said. “This has been able to bring new technology to us which will support not only the tribal community, but the broader community.”
Aho said the vehicle includes upgrades to give first-responders more protection from COVID-19 and other viruses. It features partitions separating patients from drivers and state-of-the-art sterilization tools, including built in UV Sanitation equipment.
The vehicle partnership, Aho said, is a symbol of the trust between the fire agency and Tribe that has developed over their years of working together.
“It’s a partnership that’s been blossoming for a very very long time,” said King County Councilmember Sarah Perry. “Writing that grant only happened because these relationships were built with trust.”
The Tribe contracts with EF&R for fire service and a strong partnership has existed between the two for years. EF&R has staffed its existing aid car on the Tribe’s reservation since 2019, coinciding with over a minute reduction in response times
During the pandemic, at a time when vaccines were scarce, the Tribe donated its excess doses to be used in community vaccination sites at the Snoqualmie Casino and Lake Sammamish State Park.
The clinics, administered by EF&R responders, gave out over 20,000 doses of the vaccine between the two sites. The project received an award for community resilience from King County Executive Dow Constantine.