For the second time in a year, the Kirkland Firefighters Union has broached an issue with the city of Kirkland by posting an open letter on its website critical of the city. This time the initial post stated that the union believes there to be a lack of funding for fire service-related programs.
In the first letter, published last week on the website and signed “Kirkland Professional Firefighters,” the union calls on the council to restore certain services, which they claim may have played a role in recent fire related fatalities, including one several weeks ago on Finn Hill.
The post claims these deaths were “considered preventable” by industry standards.
“Unfortunately, the city of Kirkland has chosen a course of eliminating programs that help protect children and vulnerable populations from the dangers of fire,” the post states. “These cuts have included the elimination of programs to educate school-age children, programs to support senior citizens and programs which ensure that the use of smoke detectors and other life safety behaviors are practiced and understood by all members of the community.”
The union post points out that the Washington Survey and Rating Bureau gave the city a four-out-of-10 for its ability to respond to fires, with one being for optimal coverage and 10 for unprotected. On top of this, the post states that the fire prevention bureau has an Insurance Service Organization rating of eight.
“This year we have seen these sometimes meaningless numbers turn into actual lives lost,” the post states. “We should ask them to make fire prevention and public education a priority again. If needed, our council members should look towards other Eastside cities for leadership and re-install the same programs that children and seniors of other cities enjoy. Fire safety is a priority for firefighters and it should be for all of us.”
Local 2545 President Bryan Vadney told the Reporter that the city should resume these programs in order to allow them to identify at-risk and vulnerable residents who are unable to care for themselves properly in
the event of a fire, or properly install fire detectors. The city should connect them to social services, in addition to promoting fire prevention where appropriate.
“In other agencies like Kent we would have identified the woman on Finn Hill as a vulnerable adult,” he said. “We’ve gone on calls to those residences and could have connected the dots. We just haven’t evolved. We’re asking ourselves ‘what gives?’ When will we do something different? It seemed like a good idea, a good reminder, a time to challenge ourselves.”
Members of the Kirkland City Council, including Mayor Amy Walen, Dave Asher, Penny Sweet and Toby Nixon, wrote a letter in response to the posting. The Reporter has posted the letter in full here.
In part, the letter reads, “Fifty-two percent of our operating budget is dedicated to police and fire. Kirkland residents consistently rate fire and emergency medical services as the top performing critical function we provide.
“Even with such public support, the Council has invested heavily in even better fire and emergency services. In 2010 we spent $14.2 million on fire operations. Today the Council has increased that commitment to $18.9 million annually.”
The letter continues, “It is true that during the Great Recession we were forced to cut the Fire Department’s Public Information Officer. It is not clear how or why the firefighter’s union links this reduction from five years ago to the two recent tragic deaths.”
Nixon, a former fire commissioner for the now-defunct Fire District 41 that covered neighborhoods like Finn Hill, says that while the council is looking at possible funding for fire services in the future, the union’s claims concerning the recent fires are not valid.
“They’re good ideas, and we have them in our discussions,” he said. “I’m just not sure what would cause them to raise these issues at this time. We’re taking a look at all those things as part of the normal course of reviewing the performance of the fire department and what improvements we can make.”
Though an investigation into the fatal house fire on Finn Hill is still ongoing, Nixon said these programs would not have prevented the fire, as the firefighters arrived within the national response time.
“They met our performance standards, and because they had four firefighters they were able to go in and attack the fire immediately,” he said. “We don’t have all of the reports yet about what happened in that fire and how it spread and how the person died, but my understanding is that it was so involved most likely because it was already a big fire before anyone even called 911. There was really nothing the firefighters could have done.”
Nixon added that they have hired a new fire inspector in the most recently passed budget.
“I’m not sure why they’re bringing it up again,” he said. “We’re looking at all the operational improvements that we could make, including staffing for the new fire station when it gets built. I always wonder what causes them to publish an open letter as opposed to coming and talking to councilmembers about their concerns. What pushes them to make this thing a public conversation?”
The union posted a second letter in response to the council, which can be found here.
Kirkland Reporter Regional Editor Matt Phelps contributed to this report.