Why a Regional Fire Authority (RFA) for the South Beach?

By Chuck Wallace

Grayland Fire Chief

In the next few days you will have opportunity to vote on Proposition 1 — whether or not to establish a Regional Fire Authority (RFA) along the South Beach. As in any new proposal, there are numerous questions, rumors and misinformation surrounding the possible establishment of an RFA. Hopefully, this will resolve some of the questions you may have.

Currently five jurisdictions — Ocosta (Grays Harbor Fire District No. 14), Rural Westport (Grays Harbor Fire District No. 3), Westport (The City of Westport Fire Department), Grayland (Grays Harbor Fire District No. 11) and North Cove (Pacific County Fire District No. 5) — are co-owners and operators of the South Beach Fire and Ambulance Service, which means you are a part owner in the organization.

At this time, no single entity has enough manpower to handle a structure fire or emergency medical services alone. We complement each other through mutual aid agreements which allows us to send assistance in manpower and equipment for fires and emergency incidents to our neighboring jurisdictions at no additional cost to taxpayers other than the voted upon levies of each jurisdiction.

Emergency Medical Services (EMS) are a huge priority for all of the jurisdictions. Each year the number of fire responses lowers, while EMS service calls increase incrementally throughout South Beach. We wish to continue offering the best fire and emergency medical services for our residents and visitors to our communities and beaches. Our dedicated, highly skilled and trained volunteer firefighters and Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) along with our South Beach Fire and Ambulance Paramedics and EMTs serve our communities with pride and expertise. However, there is a cost to keep them supplied with the most current state-of-the-art equipment to assist them in providing the best fire and emergency medical services available, saving lives and reducing the impact any fire or medical response has upon our residents, visitors and their families.

The elected fire commissioners from Ocosta, Rural Westport, Grayland and North Cove, along with the Westport City Council and mayor have been working to find a solution to maintain the high standards and practice of South Beach Fire and Ambulance, as well as their local jurisdictional fire response capabilities and responsibilities. We have been tasked with finding a way to maintain the high level of services due to increased operational costs, mandated training and equipment and volunteer retention issues.

Increased costs are imposed upon the South Beach Ambulance Service and the local jurisdictional fire districts by drug manufacturers, hospitals, higher equipment costs, higher costs for training and even apparatus preventative maintenance, repairs and at times replacement. In turn they must request from voters in each entity to vote for a levy to support the increased costs. Recently, the levies have not passed in every jurisdiction, causing concern how long we can continue to operate fire and ambulance services in a deficit.

The solution which was debated, argued, discussed and decided upon was the establishment of a Regional Fire Authority.

If you vote to approve Proposition 1 to establish a Regional Fire Authority, then:

• The RFA will consolidate all of the five jurisdictions in the South Beach Area into one large organization.

• The firehouses in each jurisdiction will remain.

• Services will remain basically the same the first year and gradually residents and visitors will see faster response times, more public outreach, a gradual increase in highly trained personnel and a more effective, cost efficient organization saving all South Beach residents their hard earned money.

• Each of the five jurisdictions will have an elected member to the RFA Governing Board which gives you the ability to vote for your best interests as you currently have today.

• A nationwide search for a fire chief will be held. The chief will operate under the guidelines your elected Governing Board sets for the RFA.

• All taxpayers will pay the same levy and tax rate as the other jurisdictions.

• All jurisdictions, with the exception of Grayland will see a LOWER tax rate initially through consolidation.

• Grayland residents may see an initial $8-$15 tax increase the first year, to bring them up to the same exact tax level of all other jurisdictions, because they have been paying lower taxes due to the fact they have no paid personnel — all are currently volunteer, even the chief.

• All fire equipment will be consolidated to ensure the equipment is current, tested and maintained to the highest standards.

• Instead of each jurisdiction ordering fire and ambulance apparatus, it will be accomplished on an as needed basis for the larger RFA, saving taxpayers their hard earned dollars.

• The RFA opens the door to apply for state and federal grants, unavailable to our current smaller jurisdictions, to assist in obtaining funding for apparatus, repairs and construction of firehouses, obtaining new equipment and training – all which will save taxpayers thousands of their hard earned dollars.

If the voters do not approve the RFA, then:

• There is a distinct possibility within the next two years that our current level of services will decrease and possibly disappear.

• Because more than one jurisdiction is having trouble passing levies for the necessary funding to keep the South Beach Fire and Ambulance running today, we may see: the loss of trained personnel to other areas of the state; the inability to keep apparatus and equipment running at a safe standard; the distinct possibility of firehouses losing more and more volunteers, which is happening at an alarming rate today); increased home insurance costs due to reduced fire capability; property value decrease because no local fire and EMS service exists; and the distinct possibility the South Beach Fire and Ambulance may go away and all residents will need to contract with another agency to provide emergency medical services and possibly fire services, costing them a great deal more money than if we could maintain what we have now. It will cost lives, your homes and personal property.

Please remember to vote on Proposition 1 for the Regional Fire Authority in this election. The choice is yours to make.