Opinion

BIFD needs levy to serve community | Guest Column | Scott Isenman

As a member of the current BIFD Board of Commissioners, I would like to respond to Mr. Field’s letter (“No public request made for EMS proposition”) of concern in the Sept. 11 Review regarding the proposed EMS levy.

The board placed the levy on the November ballot knowing it was relatively short notice, but for valid and considered reasons.

The board represents the community’s interests in its governance of the department. In 2007, the board directed our then new fire chief to undertake a formal long-range strategic planning process with strategic priorities dictated by the board. This process looked retrospectively to understand our history and culture, evaluated our current state and looked prospectively to allow us to govern proactively.

This review was recently completed and is available on the department’s website (www.bifd.org). We encourage everyone to review it.

The planning document confirmed some department assumptions; modified others, and revealed some community perceptions and expectations that may differ from BIFD’s capabilities.

BIFD enjoys great support from the community and all work diligently to earn that support.

However, the reality is that we have evolved from a primarily volunteer organization to a career fire department supported by volunteers.

Society has changed and while our volunteers still are ingrained within our culture, provide a vital supplement to our service and contribute to contain costs, we can no longer rely on their service to supply our primary response.

The implications of this are paramount and are discussed in detail in the BIFD Strategic Plan. The proposed staffing plan, as outlined in the strategic plan, would bring BIFD up to recognized industry standards and allow it to protect lives and property (including its members) at a level the community deserves and already expects.

As a board, we see a fiduciary responsibility to do this, not only because it is what the community deserves, but, frankly, to protect us from potential liability. Some sobering statistics from the plan:

Currently, two of our three stations are unmanned 95 percent of the time; we fail to meet response time targets to fires 75 percent of the time and basic EMS calls over one-third of the time; current staffing allows us to respond to only one full EMS call at a time, yet recent statistics show we have concurrent calls over 35 percent of the time

It is not our desire to drive this levy out of fear, rather by educating the community about what level of service is prudent and what we plan to do to get there.

It should be recognized that without additional funds, BIFD may be unable to deliver service levels commensurate with expectations and standards, and ultimately may be forced to reduce staffing – further degrading its response capabilities.

In thoroughly evaluating funding options, budget projections and staffing arising from the strategic planning process, the board initially felt 2010 would allow for enough communication and education with the community.

Following analysis, however, it became clear that if the board waited until 2010 to act it would require the levy rate to increase from $0.40 to $.49/$1,000 of assessed valuation to fund the department.

The board unanimously agreed to act to pursue the more responsible rate.

This is a complex topic. The nature of emergency services does not allow one to manage its demand on a daily basis (i.e., BIFD cannot backlog business).

Therefore, the department must staff based on best information and statistical data available, which show the overall demand for EMS to continue to trend upward.

Since BIFD is constrained to the I-747 limit of 1 percent non-voted levy increase per year, the board determined the EMS levy the best option available and asks for the community’s support.

If you have questions or would like more information, call (206) 842-7686 or visit our website at www.bifd.org.

Also, come to one of the open houses we are scheduling at each of our stations (details on our website); or request a presentation to your neighborhood or community group.

Our regularly scheduled board meetings are held on the first and third Wednesday of every month, at 6 p.m. in Station 21, 8895 Madison Ave.

Scott Isenman is chair of the Bainbridge Island Fire Department Board of Commissioners

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