Langley, WA – South Whidbey Fire/EMS reports that call volumes for 2019 dipped slightly due to better weather. The agency responded to 2,545 emergency calls compared to 2,697 in 2018. (Seventy-seven percent of all calls in 2019 were for emergency medical service.) However, calls are up 12 percent overall since 2014 and the agency is struggling.
South Whidbey Fire/EMS employs some full-time and part-time personnel, but relies primarily on volunteers to respond to an average of 2,600 calls a year. The last recession hit Whidbey Island hard, and the Fire District lost 30 percent of its volunteer workforce.
The number of volunteers has held steady since that time, but it is difficult to keep them due to the cost of living on the island and the high call volumes. Often, the agency relies on mutual aid from neighboring fire districts, which takes longer to reach people in an emergency.
The Fire District is considering asking the community for a fire levy lid lift sometime in 2020 to hire up to eight full-time firefighter/emergency medical technicians. A much smaller portion of the lid lift would go towards replacing aging apparatus that is hurting the community’s insurance rating.
Staffing and apparatus deficiencies resulted in the Fire District’s insurance rating being downgraded in 2018. This rating is linked to the amount home and business owners pay in insurance premiums.
The fire district will host a series of meetings to take public input on the fire levy lid lift sometime in the spring. The lid lift would cost the owner of a $400,000 home approximately $10 per month. If approved, the fire levy rate would change from 65 cents to 95 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. By way of comparison, the fire district’s levy rate was $1.00 in 1990.
South Whidbey Fire/EMS provides emergency services to 15,600 people over 66 square miles. The Fire District operates under a balanced budget and has a history of passing its financial and accountability audits by the state. In 2017, it earned a double-A rating with a leading bond agency because of its sound financial practices.