Firefighters respond to council comments | Open letter

The Kirkland Professional Firefighters have found Councilmember Toby Nixon’s recent remarks both callous and unfortunate.

The following was posted on the Kirkland Firefighter Union web page on Tuesday:

The Kirkland Professional Firefighters have found Councilmember Toby Nixon’s recent remarks both callous and unfortunate. Despite our disappointment, we plead with all city council members to simply look at the merits of our claims and make public safety a priority. Our concerns are rooted in the fact that the city of Kirkland has made decisions that have cannibalized its public fire education and outreach programs, and left the fire prevention bureau understaffed and unable to complete industry standard assignments.

In 2007, Townzen & Associates, an emergency management consulting firm, was hired by the city to perform an analysis of the Fire Prevention/Inspection Bureau. This firm concluded that the Fire Bureau was unable to meet annual inspection goals, among other duties, due to its being understaffed. Kirkland was the only Eastside city among our comparables (eight cities in total) not meeting those inspection goals. A recommendation of 5.75 full time employees was recommended and this was not including the Fire Marshall position. At the time the Fire Bureau had three employees. Along with staffing concerns the consulting firm stated in 2007 that:

“…it can be assumed that significant fire safety violations exist within the community. In addition, there are limited efforts to ensure reliability of existing fire protection systems…”

“…it does not appear as though staffing levels within the fire prevention division have increased since 1992; while the workload has increased significantly over the same period.”

Currently, nine years later, the city of Kirkland has failed to meet this minimum staffing threshold. Besides the Fire Marshall, there are currently four full time employees (FTE), and one administrative assistant who split time between executive staff and the Fire Bureau. Effectively, the Fire Bureau is two positions under the minimum requirement established nine years prior, and before annexation in 2011. As a result, the Fire Bureau is amidst a code compliance project dating back to 2004. This retroactive compliance standard for basic fire alarm systems in multi-family construction over 16 units remains incomplete. As of Feb. 26, there are 41 buildings of this type that do not meet this 2004 standard.

Enforcement processes and the Fire Bureau’s perpetually understaffed office has prevented this project from reaching completion.

As most recall, in 2011, the city of Kirkland annexed over 30,000 more citizens and seven square-miles of land in the Kingsgate, Finn Hill, and Juanita neighborhoods. As a result of annexation and decisions made by the city of Kirkland, fire station 24 (Finn Hill) and fire station 34 (Kingsgate) were closed. Despite the increase in response area and call volume the Fire Bureau remained understaffed.

Along with issues regarding inspections/prevention there is no substantive process for reporting vulnerable adults in Kirkland. As a result, the city of Kirkland was notified earlier this year that the city is not meeting minimum reporting guidelines for vulnerable adults. This is due, at least in part, because the Kirkland Fire public education and outreach was virtually eliminated in 2010 when the department’s only Community Risk Reduction Officer was abolished. Despite Nixon’s assumption that this is a negotiating tactic, the Kirkland Professional Firefighters would like to point out that the Community Risk Reduction Officer was not a union held position. Yet we advocate for all positions necessary for Kirkland Public Safety. An excerpt from the 2012 Kirkland fire strategic plan prepared by Emergency Services Consulting International (ESCI):

“The fire and life-safety public education efforts of the KF&BD are significantly limited with the elimination of the single KF&BD community education specialist at the end of 2010.”

“ESCI recommends that a plan be developed for conveying fire prevention and community education.”

Over the last decade it has been evident that the City of Kirkland has failed in meeting staffing needs with regards to the Fire Bureau and public education/outreach. The 2007 analysis revealed the Bureau was operating at 1992 staffing levels. The ESCI in 2012 reports, that the elimination of the Community Risk Reduction Officer has significantly limited public education. And finally, as stated in the Local’s previous letter, the Washington Survey and Rating Bureau gave the City of Kirkland the lowest rating of any eastside city for its efforts to prevent fires, thus saving lives.

If the studies and analyses, performed in the past ten years aren’t enough, then the city could of course hire more consultants and pay for another study. Or the city could replace the lost position of Community Risk Reduction Officer lost in 2010 and meet the minimum needs in the Fire Bureau already identified through the aforementioned studies and analyses.

Local 2545 would like to make our motive clear. This is not a bargaining tactic. This is our best effort at illustrating some of the immediate needs the City of Kirkland has in order to fulfill the Public Safety service the City of Kirkland purports to provide. Mr. Nixon was presumptive, reactionary and chose to analyze our stance in anger. We understand all too well that not all deaths are preventable. For those deaths that are preventable, we hope you will provide us the minimal resources necessary to fulfill our duty.