Snoqualmie considers fire department staff sharing agreement
February 20, 2013
By Michele Mihalovich
The Snoqualmie City Council will be asked Feb. 25 to consider a personnel-sharing agreement between the Duvall, Fall City and Snoqualmie fire departments.
Snoqualmie Fire Chief Bob Rowe said the sharing idea actually came about when attending a November board meeting with NORCOM, an emergency dispatch system used by many local agencies.
He said Duvall’s fire chief mentioned his department needed an information technology expert, and Rowe said they might considered using personnel with the city’s IT department.
“Much like what North Bend did when they decided to contract with Snoqualmie for payroll services,” Rowe said.
But, then he got to thinking that this sharing idea could go a bit further and help address something that all three rather small fire departments face at one time or another — mandatory overtime when departments are short staffed.
Rowe said a good example is when a bunch of Fall City firefighters are off fighting wildfires, the very small pool of firefighters available have to put in mandatory overtime because two full-time, career firefighters must be on duty at all times.
In that case, if an interlocal agreement were in place, firefighters from Snoqualmie and Duvall could be asked if they want the overtime hours to go and help Fall City, he said.
The personnel sharing agreement would not cost Snoqualmie taxpayers any additional money, because the department requesting the additional firefighters would foot the bill, according to the proposed agreement that was shared at the Feb. 14 Snoqualmie Public Safety Committee meeting.
Currently, Snoqualmie has nine full-time, career firefighters. That does not count Rowe, or two other administrative positions. Snoqualmie is in the process of hiring another full-time firefighter because of funds now available from the voter-approved public safety levy.
Chief Chris Connor, with King County Fire District No. 27 in Fall City, said his take on the sharing agreement is very positive.
“We’re all fairly small agencies constrained by budgets,” he said. “Most have seen a decrease in dollars available and are trying to do more with less. We came up with this idea, but personnel is just putting our toe in the water. Hopefully, once the ILA is in place, we’ll be able to share anything, like equipment.”
Deputy Chief Joel Kuhnhenn, with King County Fire District No. 45, agreed that the agreement is just the tip of the iceberg as far as sharing possibilities.
“We all have minimum staffing,” he said. “If someone is out on sick leave and someone else is out for injuries, it’s a very challenging situation. If Fall City had that situation, they might ask us or Snoqualmie to help augment their staffing.”
Kuhnhenn said he also sees that the sharing agreement could expand to include equipment sharing, and even possibly administrative staff.
“If someone’s fire engine breaks down, then we could loan ours,” he said, but added that sharing administrative staff could also be a possibility.
The three-member Duvall commission approved the agreement Feb. 13. Fall City is expected to sign at its next commission meeting in March. And if the Snoqualmie City Council does sign on, the next step is securing a letter of agreement with the unions.
Rowe told the committee that all three unions are on board with the agreement, and the letter would just formalize it.
Then, each department would develop an orientation manual and each firefighter would take on orientation shifts with the other departments to familiarize themselves with their personnel and equipment, he said. Finally, a standard of policies will be developed for the departments.
Rowe said it’s an ambitious plan, but the goal is to have everything in place when wildfire season begins in July.
Michele Mihalovich: 392-6434, ext. 246, or firstname.lastname@example.org.