EFR defers on job of emergency coordinator

January 20, 2009

By J.B. Wogan

Amid talks about its 2009 budget, Eastside Fire & Rescue staff members recommended filling a new emergency coordinator position. But EFR’s commissioners chose to defer filling it, saying it isn’t necessary right now. EFR staff hasn’t given up on the idea, though, and they’re talking with Woodinville Fire and Life Safety District officials about brokering a deal to share in the cost of a full-time emergency management coordinator.

“We need one and we’ll continue to look for ways to fill that,” Fire Chief Lee Soptich said.

In Issaquah, Public Works Operations Director Bret Heath addresses emergency response part-time. The city also employs a part-time emergency coordinator, Steve Campbell.

From Heath’s perspective, Issaquah would benefit from an EFR coordinator to the extent that dialogue between the city and fire agency could be better. Otherwise, Issaquah is already prepared for emergencies, he said.

In 2008, Issaquah officials created two new positions that specifically help with dealing with disasters in the city. One was the one filled by Campbell and Public Information Officer Autumn Monahan filled the other.

During budget talks last year at EFR, the emergency management coordinator position was listed as have an annual salary of $108,544.

Deputy Fire Chief Bud Backer, of the Woodinville Fire Department, said that he would have a proposal to share in the cost of a coordinator position — shared between individual EFR partners as well as several other King County localities, within the next month. Partners in EFR could choose to join in the interlocal agreement on an individual basis, Backer said.

The position wasn’t filled for 2009 as part of the EFR commissioners’ effort to limit the increased cost of fire service.

“The three cities felt that would not be a wise expenditure,” said Commissioner Lee Fellinge, one of two Sammamish representatives on EFR’s board of commissioners.

The board has a total of eight members, including five from the cities of Issaquah, North Bend and Sammamish.

Not filling the coordinator position doesn’t equate with not having emergency response plans for each of EFR’s cities and fire districts. On the contrary, EFR has separate plans for wildfires, civil unrest, adverse weather, flooding and earthquakes, according to Soptich.

“At least for rescue, fire and medical aid, there would be a fire department plan,” Soptich said.

The emergency management coordinator would oversee EFR emergency response plans, seek state and federal grant money for disaster relief programs, and look for ways to improve coordination efforts between EFR’s 16 stations across Issaquah, North Bend, Sammamish, Carnation and portions of unincorporated King County. The coordinator would not command during an emergency — it would be an administrative post.

“I think that’s a great goal, but it’s not stopping us from getting our work done, so it can wait awhile,” Sammamish Deputy City Manager Pete Butkus said.

Butkus moonlights as Sammamish’s emergency response manager, in addition to his normal responsibilities as the city manager’s right-hand man. Sammamish has had an emergency response plan in place since 2001, when a citizens committee worked with Sammamish police to draft one, Butkus said.

When wind or snowstorms hit east King County, Sammamish officials communicate with its neighboring cities to organize relief efforts, as they did when Issaquah helped with supplying sand during the December storms, Butkus explained.

If a problem ever overwhelms the city’s resources, Butkus calls the King County Emergency Coordination Center, which provides regional oversight for emergency situations.

If the partner cities want to coordinate a more complete regional emergency plan, representatives from each city and EFR could meet to draft a plan, but it wouldn’t require a full-time employee, Fellinge said.

Official emergency situations are rare for EFR. In the agency’s nine-year history, there’s been one time when the organization has ever declared an emergency — on Jan. 7, due to flooding in Issaquah, North Bend and Carnation.

“It’s the first time we’ve ever done it,” Soptich said. “Fortunately, we actually didn’t get to the point where we missed any calls.”

Reach Reporter J.B. Wogan at 392-6434, ext. 247, or jbwogan@isspress.com. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.

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