Glacier Fire and Rescue commissioners authorized a levy proposition to be placed on the November 2 2021 ballot. If the levy passes the bulk of the newly collected funds will be used to upgrade aging fire and ems emergency response apparatus (fire trucks and ambulance).
More info for those who are interested
Here is the big picture. The number one goal of Glacier Fire and Rescue is to provide the highest quality emergency service response at the greatest value possible. When we are talking emergency services really we are talking about three distinct entities; Fire, EMS and Rescue. Technically as a Fire District fire response is our number one mandate, in reality 70%-80% of modern fire service response is EMS in nature. Rescue is a unique service provided by Glacier Fire and Rescue necessitated both by the nature of our local geography and the volume of people who recreate in the area. In the future I would like to talk more on EMS and Rescue but as we are discussing the levy, fire response is most relevant.
Fire response is the foundation of a fire district. The adequacy or lack thereof of a fire district to perform the basic functions of fire response is evaluated every five years by the organization Washington Surveying and Rating Bureau (WSRB). As the name implies, after providing a survey (evaluation) of our organization we receive a rating. What is the rating used for? Insurance companies use a fire districts rating to determine insurance rates for structures within the district. The better your districts rating the lower, on average, insurance premiums. The magic formula is to use increased levy rates to equip the department in such a way that a better rating is received. While no guarantees can be made, the potential exists to have insurance rates decrease to a greater degree than the levy rate was increased thus providing a net savings to the property owner.
So, what items are of concern to the WSRB rating? I will speak to the big ones.
In summary; our goal is the fabled win-win-win scenario.
If you have read this far I sincerely thank you for taking the time to understand the process more thoroughly and fulfill your role as an informed voter. If there are any questions that you would like answered on this topic or any other WCFD 19 business do not hesitate to reach out. Thanks
In regards to recent fundraising efforts undertaken on behalf of Glacier Fire and Rescue the question has been asked “Don’t my taxes pay for that?”
The short answer is no.
We’ll get back to that, first let’s learn more about Glacier Fire and Rescue (GF&R).
GF&R is comprised of approximately 24 volunteer firefighters and EMTs, about a third of whom are responsible for the majority of call responses. It is challenging to be a volunteer firefighter, both in as to how much training time commitment is involved and the ability/desire to drop everything at a moments notice. GF&R firefighters are on call 24/7, responsible for responding to 75-100 calls per year. GF&R volunteers cover a territory from approximately MP 28 -> Artist Point. In addition they provide mutual aid support to WCFD 14 and backcountry rescue support to Whatcom County Search and Rescue.
The training requirements to be a GF&R firefighter are significant; in addition to 300 hours of fire academy training there is another 150 hours of coursework and testing required to be certified as a Washington State EMT. Mandatory ongoing training consists of two weekday evenings per month plus weekend trainings in the summer. Many volunteers go above and beyond this “minimum”, performing station maintenance and attending additional non-mandatory training. There is very little upside for these individuals, the potential downsides are immeasurable.
The point being, please consider the sacrifices that members of your own community make on your behalf when we discuss issues of financial support for this municipal resource.
Operating a fire district is not without cost, much of which is often provided through a taxing mechanism, in this case a voter approved levy. Donations are also a historical way of funding volunteer fire protection activities, fundraising and volunteer fire departments have been together since the beginning.
Whatcom County Fire District 19 (that’s us) has the lowest levy rate in the county, half of what some other districts collect. Our current levy rate is 74 cents per 1000 dollars ($0.74/$1000) and decreasing annually. Most local fire districts of our size attempt to maintain their levy rate at approximately 1 dollar per 1000 dollars ($1.00/$1000). Levy rates need to be voted on periodically because rates, by law, do not keep up with inflation or housing value increases. The current shortage caused by that $0.26/$1000 disparity is in the neighborhood of a $50,000 per year budget shortage.
“What? That’s crazy!” Yes it is and until that disparity is resolved fundraising is the bandaid. What does that money support? Primarily training and equipment. I have already outlined some of the training requirements necessary to be an active GF&R volunteer, which is the absolute minimum required to be competent. Additionally there is equipment, a set of bunker gear and other protective clothing is approximately $3500 per firefighter. Our frontline fire engine is nearly 20 years old, a new one cost around $500,000 (that’s 10 years of levy shortfall). I won’t even get started on the antiquity of our ambulance workspace or the space restrictions of the fire hall.
So, is there an upside? Yes. There are mechanisms in place to encourage us to help ourselves, primarily in the form of the Washington Surveying and Rating Bureau (WSRB). I will get more into the WSRB process more in a future post, for now imagine their attitude to be that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. They have created a scoring matrix that monetarily incentivizes communities to invest in, you guessed it, training and equipment. So, to the question of taxes; if they did indeed pay for all that is necessary to provide the quality of protection that our residents deserve then fundraising would not be necessary, but no, as of now taxes do not cover the need.
This post is meant to be a conversation starter as to the safe and efficient functioning of your volunteer fire department, there are many components to be considered and this represents just a few. I hope that you will feel inspired to engage in the future of GF&R as an active citizen or better yet, as a volunteer. I am here to answer any questions that you may have concerning GF&R.
Until next time, stay safe.