EFR examines staffing levels for fire stations

March 5, 2013

By Caleb Heeringa

A review of Eastside Fire & Rescue’s service model has led to suggestions that the agency consider having two firefighters at stations rather than the typical three.

Proponents say the idea could be a more efficient use of the agency’s resources, particularly if the two-person unit was stationed in an area that sees a lot of minor medical calls rather than actual fires.

But the suggestion was met with some skepticism from other board members at a Dec. 20 committee meeting, particularly those representing rural fire districts.

“If I have a heart attack or my wife does, I want three guys showing up,” District 10 Commissioner Donald Smith said.

Jon Wiseman, president of the union that represents EFR firefighters, said moving any station’s staffing down to two firefighters is a concern. State law forbids a firefighter to enter a burning building until three responders are on the scene. While aid calls can be handled by two people, Wiseman said having a third person can be vital during the most serious medical emergencies.

For a patient in need of CPR, one person is needed to do chest compressions, another to keep his or her airway open and a third to ready the defibrillator.

“People talk about two people on an aid call like it’s not a big deal, but when you roll up on a medical emergency, having that third person can be important,” Wiseman said.

Wiseman said the three-person minimum is generally considered an industrywide standard for urban fire service, with departments in some other parts of the country striving to do one better and having four firefighters on hand at all times. Fire District 27, which serves Fall City, saw its 2010 bid to join EFR fall short because it could not meet EFR’s three-person minimum staffing level without a subsidy from other partners.

“It’s hard to think about going back down to a two-person model when we’ve already achieved” a three-person minimum, Wiseman said.

North Bend Mayor Ken Hearing, who headed the staffing committee meetings, said the idea made some theoretical sense, but said he was doubtful it would gain traction anytime soon.

Many partners were concerned that homeowners near a two-person station could see their fire insurance rates go up because insurance companies would see the lesser staffing as an increased threat of homes being lost in fires. EFR has recently been recruiting additional volunteer firefighters to work at the Wilderness Rim fire station after the state’s Survey and Rating Bureau said the area did not have enough recruits and threatened to downgrade the station’s rating.

“No one’s quite sure what the rating bureau would do,” Hearing said. “I don’t know if anybody wants to go there right now.”

 

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