Voters could decide dollars for Eastside Fire & Rescue, emergency services

August 21, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

The source of dollars underpinning emergency response agencies throughout King County — including Eastside Fire & Rescue — is poised to go before voters next year.

In late July, leaders from the county, cities and emergency response agencies recommended a six-year renewal for the countywide Medic One/EMS levy. The existing levy is due to expire Dec. 31, 2013, and the task force urged leaders to put the property tax measure on the ballot again.

The annual property tax levy provided almost $1.4 million for the 2012 EFR budget. The amount each agency receives is derived through a formula based on assessed values and call volumes in the agency’s service area.

“It’s very important” as a funding source, EFR Deputy Chief Bud Backer said Aug. 2.

Levy dollars cover the cost for EFR’s volunteer firefighters to train as emergency medical technicians. The levy also provides key dollars to fund training for firefighters.

On the Web

Learn more about the existing King County Medic One/EMS levy and the recommendations for a proposed 2013 levy at the Public Health – Seattle & King County website, www.kingcounty.gov/healthservices/health/ems/LevyReauthorization.aspx

EFR — formed in 1999 and headquartered in Issaquah — serves Issaquah, North Bend, Sammamish, and fire protection districts 10 and 38. In the Issaquah area, Fire District 10 includes Klahanie, Mirrormont and Preston in unincorporated King County.

King County Emergency Medical Services encompasses four dispatch centers, six paramedic providers and 30 fire departments, including EFR. Voters approved the last Medic One/EMS levy in November 2007.

Under the existing levy, property owners pay 30 cents per $1,000 of assessed value — or about $120 per year for a $400,000 home.

Public Health – Seattle & King County spokesman Matías Valenzuela said officials expect to determine a rate for the next levy in March 2013.

Recommendations from the task force include continued funding of Medic One services and a portion of emergency responder services for EFR and other local fire and emergency response departments.

Next, task force recommendations go to King County Executive Dow Constantine and the King County Council, the body responsible for placing a levy renewal measure on a ballot.

Backer and other leaders credited the existing levy as a major factor in the high cardiac arrest survival rate in King County.

The figure recently reached the 50-percent mark, the best in the world, according to Public Health – Seattle & King County. In comparison, the survival rate in Los Angeles is 7 percent, New York City is 5 percent and Chicago is 3 percent, according to the agency.

Backer attributed the local figure in part to more in-depth training and more stringent protocols for paramedics operating in King County.

“When you have a heart attack, the tiered system kicks in, so you receive a basic life support, or a BLS response, along with the advanced life support, or ALS, which is the paramedics themselves,” he said. “What that allows is, they can run fewer paramedic units in the area, because the basic life support of the firefighters showing up buys time for the patient in order to allow a little bit longer response time for the paramedics to get there.”

Firefighters provide respiration, defibrillator shocks and other steps before paramedics reach the scene.

“Medic One and the levy overall provides for that tiered response,” Backer said.

The 19-person levy task force met for eight months before adopting recommendations for a proposed levy renewal. EFR Chief Lee Soptich and Deputy Chief Greg Tryon represented the agency on some task force committees.

North Bend Mayor Ken Hearing represented cities with populations of fewer than 50,000 people, including Issaquah. King County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert, a Redmond resident and the Issaquah representative, also served on the task force.

Members said a levy renewal is necessary in order to maintain the same level of service in the future.

“Our regional Medic One system provides critical life-saving services to the people in King County no matter where they live, work or play,” Deputy King County Executive Fred Jarrett, task force chairman, said in a statement. “These recommendations will continue that strong tradition of service excellence, effective leadership and regional collaboration.”

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