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Tuesday, October 20, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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City, county agency hash out temporary dispatch deal

UPDATED: Thu., Sept. 17, 2020

With the city’s fire dispatchers facing an emergency of their own, the city extended a temporary agreement for outside help this week.

The City Council ratified an agreement Monday that allows Spokane Regional Emergency Communications, a county-led emergency dispatch agency, to aid the city when it is short of fire dispatchers.

Mayor Nadine Woodward negotiated the new deal, which extends and modifies a previous agreement that recently expired. Unlike the previous iteration, the updated agreement will be renewed on a month-to-month basis.

Woodward also signaled that the city could enter discussions that lead to its eventual participation in the countywide agency. The issue has been a sore spot for City Council members, who have resisted efforts to join the agency based on concerns by its own emergency personnel.

In a City Council meeting on Monday, Woodward described the new agreement as a “Band-Aid.”

“We’ll find out down the road if we end up joining or not, but we’re going to get back to the table and start having some discussions,” she said.

The city will pay the county’s emergency dispatch system a monthly flat rate of $57,600 for the backup coverage and allow SREC personnel to step in and dispatch city of Spokane firefighters whenever the city does not have at least two of its own dispatchers on a shift.

The relationship between the county agency and the city of Spokane has been fraught since the former’s inception.

The City Council voted last year to prohibit the city from joining SREC and remains the last major holdout, as police and fire departments throughout the county joined before or shortly after its launch in 2019.

In defiance of former Mayor David Condon, the Spokane City Council claimed it did not receive enough information about the regional agency’s purported cost savings and operational benefits to justify the city making a similar switch.

But while the city did not join the new countywide agency, many of its dispatchers did, either by choice or after they were fired by Condon.

Spokane worked out an agreement last November that allowed the county’s dispatchers to cover the city whenever they did not have enough of their own dispatchers.

The city continued and amended that agreement on Monday. The situation was critical, as the previous deal had expired Friday, Woodward said.

Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson expressed concern about renewing the agreement every 30 days on “such a tight turnaround.”

“About time the ink dries on one month, we’re up for the next month. It doesn’t provide any certainty,” Wilkerson said.

Council President Breean Beggs has pushed the city to hire more fire dispatchers, which he said will be important so the city does not face an ultimatum to either join the county agency or go without emergency dispatch services.

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