August 7, 2013 in City

Task force calls for restoring fire service on South Hill

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Fire Task Team

The Spokane Fire Task Team had 17 members, including:

• Spokane City Councilman Steve Salvatori

• Spokane Fire Chief Bobby Williams

• Don Waller, president of Spokane Firefighters Union, Local 29 of the International Association of Fire Fighters

• Adam Richards, director of emergency services for Deaconess Hospital

• Robbie Thorn, director of emergency and trauma service for Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center

A mayoral task force says Spokane should return first-response firefighting capability to a South Hill fire station.

But Mayor David Condon doesn’t appear ready to take that advice just yet. Condon’s proposed 2014 budget, unveiled Tuesday, includes no extra money for adding the four firefighting positions needed to make it happen.

The recommendation is part of a final report issued Tuesday by the Fire Task Team, a panel led by City Councilman Steve Salvatori.

As a result of 2013 budget cuts, city leaders eliminated a three-person engine company, which had 12 firefighters spread across all shifts, that worked out of Fire Station No. 9 at 17th Avenue and Bernard Street. Administrators shifted the city’s two-person rescue truck to the station to keep the station open. But that crew has limited firefighting equipment and is too small to legally enter a burning building.

Condon’s proposed 2014 budget adds 25 police officers and keeps fire department staffing whole despite a $4 million gap between expected revenue and the amount needed to maintain services.

Chief Financial Officer Gavin Cooley said the fire department’s budget will be balanced by lowering by about $1 million a year the amount the city puts into the fire pension fund for retirees who started work prior to October 1977. Cooley said the proposal will delay paying off the amount needed to fully fund the pension system by three years, to 2031.

Condon talked to the task team Tuesday afternoon, prior to the release of his budget, and declined to say if he would propose restoring lost service at Station No. 9. But he said the fire station cut does not appear to have hurt how quickly the first firetruck arrives at emergencies and noted that the department’s goal of 8 minutes, 30 seconds was met during an extremely busy weekend of fires on the South Hill last month.

“The station was selected on data, not on randomness,” he said.

The task force made 31 recommendations. They include:

• “Immediately address” the department’s aging firetrucks.

• Create a nurse’s line that could handle lower-priority 911 calls.

• Partner with Spokane County Fire District No. 3, southwest of city limits, and Spokane County Fire District No. 8, southeast of city limits, to improve fire service in south Spokane.

• Billing drivers involved in collisions, or their insurance companies, for the department’s expense of cleaning up automotive fluids.

• Better connect the Indian Trail and Five Mile neighborhoods to improve response times.

One of the biggest shifts in policy it proposes already has a head start.

This week, the Spokane Firefighters Union and city administrators signed a potentially groundbreaking agreement creating, on a trial basis, three one-person units who will respond to 911 calls that are unlikely to be life-threatening. The units will work 10-hour shifts in the daytime, during peak hours, Tuesday through Friday.

The task team recommended the idea on an even more extensive basis – seven days a week. Those who hammered out the agreement said discussions within the task force over the past few months was an impetus for the agreement.

Condon said the city will track how well the trial works to keep fire engines in service to respond to critical calls.

“It’s a great opportunity to serve the citizens better,” Condon said.


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