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NW fire district may cut stations

North Whidbey Fire and Rescue District Chief Marv Koorn presented a laundry list of proposed budget cuts to commissioners Tuesday evening that would need a heavy-duty washer to handle.

Rural fire stations could be shuttered, personnel decreased and equipment purchases axed.

After voters overwhelmingly turned down the proposed levy lid lift for the second time in November, the district has no alternative other than to tighten the budget in order to attempt to maintain services.

Koorn said the department will have no problems with service in 2009 with the existing revenue received. The concern is what will happen during the period from 2010 to 2013.

“Right now we are spending 83 percent of our total income on operations,” he said. “That leaves us with $244,360 in capital. The capital money is what we use for everything else such as equipment purchases, building maintenance, training and things like that.”

By 2013, 96 percent of tax revenue will be earmarked for operations leaving a capital balance of $52,446, making it impossible to purchase a new fire engine.

Today, a new fire engine has a price tag in excess of $125,000.

Some of the budget saving proposals for 2009 include cutting vehicles, eliminating one duty officer, reducing the cost of the Heller Road station improvement project, eliminating the upgrades on the Silver Lake station, reducing training and reducing the number of volunteers to 80 active firefighters and five trainees.

“This means we can’t build the kind of fire station we wanted on Heller Road,” Koorn said. “Also, we are exploring the possibility of closing the fire stations at San De Fuca and Silver Lake.”

Koorn said nothing is definite yet, but one reduction that will be made is the number of volunteers.

“Right now, we are authorized to have 100 volunteers and 10 trainees, he said. “We are going to reduce that number to 80 and five, and this will save up approximately $20,000 by the reduction in training costs and reduction in calls we will be responding to.”

Koorn said some of the calls that the department currently responds to with volunteers will now be handled by the paid on-call officers only.

“In the past when somebody’s carbon monoxide alarm wasn’t working or there is a report of smoke in the area, we would send a crew out,” he said. “In the future, our paid on-call personnel will handle situations such as these. If the smoke report turns out to be a structure fire as opposed to just a brush fire, our volunteer response time will be considerably slower.”

Koorn said that the average response time to a call is now seven minutes, but that will lengthen with fewer volunteer firefighters.

Instead of purchasing new firefighting vehicles, the department will rehab one tender and one fire engine per year. The rehab will still cost the district $25,000 per vehicle.

“By rehabbing the engines and tenders, we will be able to extend their life,” Koorn said. “We will change the replacement dates for the tenders to 2016 and 2018, and the replacement dates for two engines to 2017 and 2020.”

By that time, the tenders will be 25 and 27 years old, and the engines will be 20 and 23 years old.

Other reductions being considered include water and high-angle rescue services.

“There is no emergency today and no definite decisions have been made on what will be reduced,” Koorn said. “The thing we need to do is look at everything and do some research before we make a final decision.”

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