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For the first time since its formation in 1950, South Whidbey Fire/EMS will consistently have a full time crew on duty 24 hours a day. The addition of four full time firefighter/EMTs brings the total to 12. They are grouped into three shifts of four people. Each shift is on duty for 24 hours, followed by 48 hours off. The new staffing begins on August 1.

“First and foremost this is going to stabilize our response time. We’ll also have the flexibility of managing multiple calls more efficiently,” said H.L. “Rusty” Palmer. “This additional crew will supplement the volunteers and work with them, not instead of them. Volunteers continue to be absolutely essential.”

The full time crew will be at the Bayview station around the clock. which was built in 2019 with sleeping quarters. The station is located in the center of the district, another factor to help shorten response time. According to Palmer, in the past volunteers have had to cover a lot of ground, sometimes travelling all the way across the district on an emergency call.

“We’ve hired this crew as an anchor to support the volunteers, not to replace them,” said Palmer. “We’ve been responding to an increased number of calls and have really taxed our core volunteers.”

The increased staffing will help the department meet its 90 seconds response time standard. It should also improve the insurance bureau’s rating for the department. The required staffing ratio to calculate the rating is six people. The new staffing scenario is four firefighter/EMTs on duty 24 hours a day, plus one duty chief, with at least three volunteers to fill the sixth spot.

The department received the additional funding this May from the levy increase, approved by voters last year. The 30 cents per $1,000 property value increase brings the department’s assessment to 95 cents, well below the maximum allowed of $1.50. The 30 cents is designated at 23 cents for increased staffing and seven cents for capital improvements. Additional firefighters/EMTs will be added and much needed equipment to replace aging apparatus will be purchased over time.

“Last year we went to the public and said this is what we need to serve you. They said okay. We are now making that happen, which speaks well for our organization,” said Palmer. “This is the right thing to do. The only reason we exist is to respond to calls. We will continue to provide our services to the community in an excellent way.”

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