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Fire levy does not affect Black Diamond
The city of Black Diamond has an interlocal agreement contract with King County Fire District 44, also known as Mountain View Fire and Rescue, which means the city won’t be directly impacted by the levy lid lift on the November election ballot.
Prior to 2006 Black Diamond had an independent fire department that was all volunteer. The number of volunteers had been dwindling according to Mayor Rebecca Olness, who was serving her first term on the Black Diamond City Council at the time.
Olness said that deciding to forego the city’s own department meant either entering into an ILA with one of the neighboring fire districts, one of which is Fire District 44, or annexing into one of the districts.
“It was really a good deal for the city and it continues to be a good deal,” Olness said.
A fire district is a junior taxing district, which means an additional tax is paid by residents to pay for the services. In the case of the ILA in Black Diamond, Olness explained that the ILA is paid for out of property taxes and through the city’s allotment of a levy that was passed in King County to help fund emergency services.
The city has fire engines and other infrastructure from the former independent department and pays for the staffing provided by the fire district.
Currently that means two paid, career firefighters are on duty at Lake Sawyer Station No. 98 from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and two volunteer firefighters are on duty from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Additionally the Fire Chief Greg Smith of Fire District 44 doubles as the chief of Black Diamond Fire. Station 99, located near the elementary school, needs to be replaced according to Olness and Smith, and cannot be adequately outfitted and staffed.
The city also has mutual aid agreements, which means that firefighters from neighboring districts respond, as available, if the firefighters in the city are out on a separate call.
“That’s something we never had before because we couldn’t afford the manpower,” Olness said.
Not being a part of Fire District 44 means Black Diamond residents don’t vote on things like this fall’s levy lid lift, but it also means that the city’s services won’t be directly impacted by the outcome.
“Indirectly it will affect us because they’re down to bear bones in the office, but directly it doesn’t have an affect on us,” Olness said. “It won’t affect the firefighters they supply us.”
The cost of the ILA is $585,000 a year and it will be up for renewal the end of this year.
“It has been a really, really good relationship, we’re very pleased with their services,” Olness said.
According to the chief, response times are the general marker of having adequate service.
Smith explained that areas within five miles of a staffed fire station should have what are considered adequate response times, which are around six minutes or less for both emergency medical services and fire responses.
Deputy Chief Mike Barlow said that when considering response times the district looks at a three year average, which in Black Diamond he said comes out to about 600 calls, both fire and EMS, that were responded to.
“Within that data set, for example, the calls that come in closest to a staffed station, Lake Sawyer station 98, those response times are under five minutes,” Barlow said. “The response times get longer the farther you get from the station…(When) they’re coming from station 98 and going into the downtown core, people like to call it old town, it’s on the order of 10 minutes.”
A diagram provided by Mountain View Fire shows that in 2010 and 2011 in the areas around Station 98 are, on average, under seven minutes, while on the other side of town in the old town and Lawson Hills areas, the response time stretches into the 10 minute range.
Additional graphics provided by Smith show that in the case of a fire, the eight minute mark is generally when a fire “flashes over,” or is when a room becomes fully engulfed by a fire, and that in the case of a heart attack, the six minute mark for response time is when the survival rate falls below 40 percent.
“That (10 minutes) is longer than a firefighter would like,” Barlow said. “In the firefighter world we like to get there in under five minutes.”