BIFD levy placed on Nov. 3 ballot

EMTs and paramedics responding to a call on August 26. - Brad Girtz
EMTs and paramedics responding to a call on August 26.
— image credit: Brad Girtz

The Bainbridge Island Fire Department has proposed a new levy for the Nov. 3 general election that could save lives and jobs.

The EMS (emergency medical services) levy would generate about $2.5 million a year and be used to hire nine basic life support (BLS) staff, one paramedic and help offset the cost of operations.

Fire Chief Hank Teran said that without the additional funding, the department would have to cut a number of emergency medical technicians just to remain at its current level of operation. BIFD receives about $5.6 million annually, $3.6 million of which goes to department personnel. The rest is split between operations, investigations, equipment and other smaller expenses.

The extra $2.5 million would help free up some of the current funding to provide basic necessities such as power and fuel bills.

“If this does not go through, the district will be at a loss within 18 months,” Teran said.

If the levy is approved, the new staff will work at stations that are currently unmanned and help increase the level of care while decreasing response times.

“Many people on the island may think all the fire stations are staffed but they are not because there is just no budget,” Teran said. “Ninety-five percent of the time Station 23 (on Phelps Road) and Station 22 (on Bucklin Hill Road), are not staffed. And when they are, the people working there are generally volunteers.”

He said that at times there are only four full-time paramedics and BLS personnel to cover the whole island. This means officers responding to one call may not be available if another emergency occurs simultaneously.

“We are asking for the minimum we need to do our job,” Teran said.

Proposition No. 1 would impose a regular property tax levy of "40 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation for a period of 10 consecutive years beginning in 2009 for collection in 2010." That works out to $16.67 per month for property valued $500,000. Sixty percent of the island's voters would to support it for approval.

If approved, it would be the first permanent levy funding the department has had in 16 years.

“We went through the department with a fine-toothed comb,” Teran said. “We also met with the public four times to see what they want and expect from the fire department.”

The process took 20 months and helped officials pinpoint the department's needs, said Teran, who added that additional funding is the only way to fill those needs and provide the level of care the public expects.

If approved, the department will staff stations 22 and 23 with at least two full-time employees – 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Station 22 would be staffed next year and Station 23 in 2013. Officials said new employees will improve response time and raise the level of care the BIFD can offer.

The current staff simply cannot meet the needs of the community, Teran said.

When Bainbridge's medical personnel are unable to respond to a call, the next closest help has to come from Poulsbo. Teran said it takes about 20 minutes for an ambulance to respond from off-island, but only four minutes for a patient's brain to stop functioning. This makes quick response times a must.

By putting full-time members of staff in all three fire stations on the island, emergency services can respond quickly and with the appropriate staff.

Having the right people on scene is often the difference between life and death, Teran said. It takes between five and eight medical personnel to respond to a call of “CPR in progress.”

The fire department only has one of their four full-time paramedics on duty at a time. The paramedics are the only people authorized to administer medications and other drugs to a patient. When they, or other EMS personnel are not available, the system can break down.

Last year the BIFD went on 2,700 calls. When these calls overlap, the department often has to rely on help from its dedicated volunteers, many of whom, unfortunately, are not always able to respond. This leaves residents in a dangerous situation without emergency medical services, Teran said, If the levy is not passed the problem will only get worse.

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