Wednesday, January 02, 2013

A new year and a twist on an annual tradition.

In keeping with a Spokane tradition, the number of firefighters on the street dedicated to protecting life, property and the infrastructure of Spokane has once again shrunk in the new year. From 59 on-duty firefighters (not counting the 2 response chiefs) we are now down to 56, in spite of the growth in the city's population, area and economy.

It is a well-documented fact that Spokane is one of Washington's most underfunded departments, not just in its cities, but its rural fire districts, as well. A quick comparison between Tacoma, the next smallest city, after Spokane, shows that the Tacoma Fire Department receives about three times the funding of the Spokane Fire Department. Three times! Yet, Spokane goes on more calls than Tacoma, and with a lot less people.

In 2013, response times will rise and favorable outcomes in emergencies will decline. This is not a New Year's prediction. It is simple math. Less people going on more calls has been the trend year after year, but this year, a bizarre variable has been thrown into the formula.

Engine 9, after one hundred years of service to the South Hill will cease to operate in 2013. That is where the three positions have been eliminated. 

This will put a strain on the South Hill. Rescue 9 (formerly Rescue 1), staffed with only two people, and with no way to fight fire, will be assigned to Station 9. However, it is still tasked with some Station 1 duties - Hazmat, SCBA maintenance, etc. Rescue 9 will respond to every structure fire and auto extrication (jaws of life) in the city, so anytime there is a fire or major car accident, Rescue 9 will be gone. That leaves Station 4 from Downtown or Engine 11 from Perry and 32nd to respond into Engine 9's former area.

And here's where things get bizarre. 

According to a new policy, Engine 11 will no longer be taking its fire engine on medical calls, but a small truck with no firefighting capability. That means if they have a fire in their area or in Engine 9's former area, or any other place, they will have to return to the station and swap out of their small ambulance-like vehicle and into the fire truck if they are not already at their station.

In what would have been a 3 minute response to your house that is on fire, it will now be a 10-15 minute response.


Usually when cuts are made in an organization, cuts like shutting down a fire station, there is usually some sort of "force multiplier" that is sought - some new way of doing business or buying a piece of equipment or an innovative allocation of personnel and resources that will help alleviate the crisis brought about by short staffing. This new policy of taking firefighters out of firetrucks, actually divides firefighters from their firetrucks and their firefighting equipment. In essence, a "force divisor" is created. This "force divisor" makes the closure of Engine 9 more detrimental to public safety. 

For 2013, things went instantly from bad to worse on the South Hill, simultaneously. Eliminate a fire engine and then hamstring those who would have tried to pick up the slack. Incredible.

In 2013, the entire South Hill will have only three firefighters permanently in one fire engine, down from nine firefighters permanently in three engines, spread across the South Hill in 2012. 

But, if you live on the north side or have a business downtown and you feel like you were spared from this separation of firefighters from their firefighting equipment, think again. Engine 13 on the corner of Jefferson and Wellesley will be doing the same thing as Engine 11. And, likewise, Downtown's Ladder 1 will now be driving around in a pickup truck much of the time, hopefully not when the 3 alarm fire comes in for a Downtown high rise fire. 

Separating firefighters from their firefighting equipment keeps them from acting as firefighters all of the time. In a new year, with another round of cuts to the fire department, we need all of our firefighters to be firefighters all of the time.

Fire Press Release

South Hill Apartment Fire
Incident #: 2012056715
Date of Incident: 12/31/2012
Issuing Officer: BC Dave Haworth
Narrative:On Monday, Dec 31 at 0324 AM, the Spokane Fire Department dispatched 4 engines, 1 ladder truck, 1 heavy rescue, and 2 battalion chiefs to a reported structure fire at 1405 W 8th. First arriving Station 4, located in the Brown's Addition neighborhood, arrived and reported a fire in one of the upstairs units. Ladder 4 organized a search of the second floor and had Engine 4 advance a hose to attack the fire. Subsequent arriving crews were assigned to search the rest of the building,  check for extension of the fire, and remove the smoke. The fire was confined to the unit of origin, with smoke damage to two other nearby apartments. SPD officers assisted by isolating the area from traffic and coordinating help for the displaced occupants. STA also assisted by providing a bus to shelter the displaced occupants during the incident. 3 units were declared uninhabitable and Red Cross provided assistance to those occupants. There were no injuries to civilians or firefighters.
Cause:The fire is under investigation by the Spokane Fire Dept Investigation Unit
Damage:Damage was confined to the unit of origin with some smoke extension to adjoining apts.
# Firefighters Responding: 30
Dollar Loss: $ 30000
Other Agencies Responding:
SPD, Avista, STA
End Of Release 
For more information on this release please call (509) 625-7002