MV Fire, Puget Sound Fire agree to merger

Maple Valley Fire and Life Safety agreed to a 20-year contract to join services with the Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority.

Maple Valley Fire agreed to a 20-year contract to join services with Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority (RFA) on May 31.

This contract was unanimously approved by both fire departments.

“Maple Valley’s board of commissioners unanimously approved the contract on May 31. On June 6 our governance board for the Regional Fire Authority unanimously approved the contract,” Kyle Ohashi, Captain and Public Information Officer for the RFA explained. “Now the contract is going to be signed. The contract goes into effect July 1. The contract is scheduled to go into (full) effect by Jan. 1, 2019. There are parts of the contract that very likely will go into affect prior to that.”

Positions like emergency response will go into effect Oct. 1, 2018, he said.

Ohashi said Maple Valley is going to start their operational side with the RFA in October, meaning the day-to-day response side of things.

According to a press release by Puget Sound RFA, another three fire stations, 44 fire fighters and five civilian staff will be added to the RFA. Also, both MV Fire Chief Aaron Tyerman and Deputy Chief Jeff Didonto will take up new positions at the RFA.

This contract will almost double the size of the RFA’s response area by adding Maple Valley and Hobart to its radar, the release said. This area generates almost 26,000 emergency calls annually.

This agreement according to Ohashi, will save the Maple Valley department $1.2 million in the first year of the contract.

The catch is MV Fire will pay the RFA $8.5 million per year, which will essentially pay the RFA to run their department, Ohashi said.

“(It) seems like a lot of money — and is a lot of money — but what that means for the fire department and the residents and businesses and visitors of the King County Fire District 43 (MV Fire) is that they are going to get more consistent, higher level of service and a huge cost savings,” Ohashi said.

Money will be saved by buying essential supplies in bulk.

“Economy is a scale, and economy as a scale means that large departments can by more efficient than small departments,” Ohashi said. “(For example), a lot of families shop at big-box stores like Costco. It’s not because they need 80 rolls of paper towels right now, but they buy it in large quantities because they save per unit and it’s cheaper than if they went to another store and bought three rolls of paper towel, so the same thing applies to the fire service. When we buy larger quantities we can save tens of thousands of dollars by doing so.”

Another advantage to this contract according to Ohashi, is that MV Fire will no longer be paying for a lot of the overhead that they were before for administrative staff. He said they can utilize the RFA’s administrative staff instead.

Vehicle maintenance will also be done at the RFA’s shop, which will save MV Fire money as well, he said.

“That means they don’t have to have their own building and mechanics and parts and electricity to run all of those things — that’s all taken care of for a fee — and it’s cheaper than what they would be able to do on their own,” he said.

The money to cover all of the $8.5 million will come from property tax that has passed in previous years.

When MV Fire tried to pass the fire benefit charge twice in the last year and half, the public said “no,” Ohashi said. If they had said “yes,” it would have funded the department, but because of “tax fatigue,” it failed.

“People are just tired of our taxes, even when they support critical services like their police and fire departments. We have to come up with other ways of keeping those services viable and at the same high level that they are currently at. One of the ways of doing that is by combining fire departments,” Ohashi said. “They (MV Fire) did pass last fall, the levy lid lift and that didn’t bring in more money, it didn’t raise taxes, it simply brought the levy back up to the level that it originally was.”

The goal for the MV Fire Department is to keep the levy lid lift tax going in order to keep the paying the RFA for their services.

Ohashi said RFA was a good choice to have this contract with because it is the largest fire department in the area. He also said it sits right in the middle of King County, all of the other fire departments sit around them.

“If you’re going to combine services and your intension is to reduce cost by joining a fire department that has the ability to absorb that additional responsibility, then you’re going to have to go with a fire department that’s fairly good sized. And also a fire department that is very stable. We have a very stable funding platform,” he said.

Ohashi said this contract would not have been approved by either department if they felt it would not in the best interest of the fire departments or the public.

“We are always thriving to provide the best and most cost efficient services we can and contracts like this support both of those things,” he said.