After failing to pass the merger with Northshore Fire Department in the April special election, Woodinville Fire & Rescue began the search for other partnership opportunities.
Following many discussions with local departments, the WFR board of commissioners voted to approve a 10-year contract for fire and emergency medical services with Eastside Fire & Rescue on Tuesday, July 13. The contract, which is set to begin in October 2021, will not result in any firefighter job loss.
“I am in full support of it,” said WFR Board of Fire Commissioners Chairman Roger Collins. “I think it's a great move for the taxpayers of the district.”
The partnership is expected to decrease costs to taxpayers, according to Commissioner Mike Millman. He said the decision will ultimately save taxpayers $1.5 million annually. By adding other partners and eliminating redundancies, he said, there is potential for even more cost savings in the future.
"I firmly believe regionalization and consolidation is the best option for long-term fiscal responsibility and fire service sustainability in our region," Millman said. "As a board, we are always looking for the best way to serve our residents. We believe this contract does just that."
Woodinville Fire & Rescue will remain a fire district with locally elected commissioners, according to spokesperson Catherine Breault. Residents in the district will not see a change in service or 911 response, she said, and the current stations will remain open and fully staffed.
According to a press release from WFR, the services agreement will increase resources and training opportunities available to firefighters from both agencies. Collins said the partnership will provide firefighters with more opportunities within a larger department.
“This is a tried-and-true model,” Collins said. “I think it's an excellent move. It consolidates the people, but keeps our local fire district intact so we can make local decisions and respond to our local populace.
Collins said WFR’s administrative staff will move to Issaquah in order to consolidate efforts. No one with “boots on the ground” will be relocated, he said.
Contracting with Eastside Fire & Rescue is not the same as merging districts, Collins said. This route allows WFR to select a level of service that is different from other cities and their needs.
“It's an excellent way to provide service to the citizens of Woodinville,” Collins said, referring to the contract. “It provides efficiency. It provides opportunity for the firefighters. Nothing is going to change as far as the level of service.”
Millman said the board of commissioners will continue to oversee district finances, stations and services. However, he said, the day-to-day operational oversight and administration of those services will be provided by Eastside Fire & Rescue.
Eastside Fire & Rescue currently serves the communities of Sammamish, Issaquah, North Bend, King County Fire District 38 and King County Fire District 10. The service area covers a growing population of 130,000 people over 190 square miles.
WFR provides fire and medical services to approximately 37,000 people over 30 square miles. Its emergency call volumes average 4,000 per year, the press release states.
“I would hope that this is just the first step north for Eastside, and that there's the potential for other cities to participate in this model,” Collins said.