By Scott Hamilton
Staffed hours at Sammamish Fire Station 81 on 212th Ave. near SE 20th St. were reduced by half and the fire engine removed Jan. 1.
In what appears to be a series of communications failures, there was no notice to city residents in the service area.
Station 81’s service are is the western part of Sammamish from roughly just west of 228th Ave. SE to Thompson Hill Road on the north and Snake Hill Road on the south. The Station is located on 212th Ave. SE a half a block south of SE 20th St.
Reduced hours, removing an engine
Station 81 is now staffed from 8:30am to 8:30pm with Emergency Medical Technicians, who are also trained fire fighters. Only an EMT ambulance is now stationed at the building. The fire engine was retired to the reserve fleet as a back-up vehicle.
A Sammamish resident emailed city officials in January asking about the changes. Initially, the citizen was told he was in error, but after more investigation, the information was confirmed.
Mayor Christie Malchow said the council was surprised.
“I don’t think we knew the timing of it. When asked, several Councilmembers as well as the City Manager responded they were unaware the repurposing had already occurred,” Malchow wrote in an email to The Comment.
EF&R and the city scheduled a public meeting held Feb. 6, but it was poorly attended. The meeting was listed on the EF&R and city websites.
Fire chief Jeff Clark was surprised Sammamish officials were surprised.
Three year process
This was a three year process involving software modeling response times under various scenarios, financial analysis and incident data analysis, he said.
The city was briefed at a Sept. 18 council meeting by the chief of Eastside Fire & Rescue, which provides service to Sammamish under contract.
The council was told the budget would be adopted at EF&R’s Oct. 11, “when your board members will be asked to take action,” the chief said during his presentation.
The city council’s representatives on the EF&R board were absent at the Oct. 11 budget approval meeting.
Ramiro Valderrama, who served as the city’s representative to EF&R longer than any current council member, said there should have been no surprise on the part of the council or administration.
“The past and current Councils and City staff were then and now continually updated on the process by EFR meeting agendas,” he wrote The Comment in response to questions. “[There were] council reports, open presentations to the Public Safety Committees, presentations by [fire] Chief Clark to the full Council both on the coverage model and specific implications to Sammamish and Issaquah on budgets, budget updates and other discussions. So I am not sure why any members of our city council might be surprised. The council had ample opportunities to ask in person questions during council reports, or directly to the EFR Chief during his presentation or questions on the agendas or minutes.”
Valderrama said he missed the Oct. 11 EF&R budget approval meeting due to scheduling conflicts. He said he asked two other council members to attend, but they also had conflicts.
Deputy Mayor Karen Moran had a long-standing engagement for Oct. 11.
“I [heard] about the Station 81 decision in September,” Moran wrote The Comment. “I was very surprised but as it was explained to me, by Chief Clark, this was in the planning for a very long time and actually been one of the final votes of [former mayor] Bob Keller’s in November of 2017. It was a ‘done deal’ by the time the new council even came on board.”
EF&R, which provides service under contract to Sammamish, said Station 81 has the fewest calls of the city’s three stations, which include Station 82 on Issaquah Pine Lake Road at 32nd St. (commonly called the Klahanie fire station) and Station 83 on 228th Ave. NE near 18th St. NE.
EF&R said two-thirds of Station 81’s calls occur in the 12 hour period the station is now staffed.
In the Sept. 18 presentation to the city council, Clark said the reduction in hours, staffing with only an aid car and removing the fire engine is “what has been recommended and supported to this point.”
Malchow verified with Clark that there would be no engine at Station 81 under the plan.
In 2018, Station 81 responded to 284 incidents; 30% were between 8:30pm and 8:30am. There were about five structure and 18 non-structure fires, Clark estimated to The Comment.
Station 82 had 920 incident responses and Station 83 had 867. Station 83’s area includes the senior assisted living homes on south 228th Avenue, which are in Issaquah, and which the city says accounts for a large number of 83’s responses.
(EF&R serves a broad area of east King County; it views Issaquah/Sammamish as one area within its district.)
A study EF&R shows that, within Sammamish, there are only two-three areas that fall outside the 6:30 minute response time goal: Trossachs, the far northwest “thumb” of the city and, at night, a far western portion of Station 81’s area.
But for Station 81, only an aid car (ambulance with EMTs) is staffed for 12 hours a day 8:30am-8:30pm.
A fire engine must come from Stations 82 or 83, or from Issaquah.
The driving distance between Stations 81 and either 82 or 83 is listed by Google Maps to be seven minutes in non-rush hour traffic.
There are parts of the Station 81 service area that are be closer to the Klahanie station, but many areas are farther away. None of the Station 81 service area south of Thompson Hill Road is closer to Station 82.
Fires double every minute
Fires double in size every minute, according to most estimates found in an Internet search. Some authorities say fires double in size in as little as 30 seconds while others say it could be up to three minutes. Clark said that depending on the nature of the fire, doubling in size could take longer than three minutes.
This video shows the rapidity of how fire spreads in less than three minutes. The video is from the Reno (NV) firefighters union.
Hours were cut back and the fire engine reassigned in a cost-cutting move, EF&R fire chief Jeff Clark told Sammamish Comment. The reduced hours and engine reassignment saves $1.5m a year, he said.
The decision to make the changes were made at an October EF&R board meeting. Sammamish’s representatives to the EF&R board, Council members Ramiro Valderrama and Karen Moran, were not present. Valderrama at the time was vice chairman of the fire district’s board.
Neither subsequently informed the Sammamish city council or city manager of the decision. They learned of this in January, after the hours were reduced and the engine reassigned, from a citizen.
At the Feb. 6 community meeting, Clark said he told the few Sammamish residents present that “I’m not trying to convince you what we are doing is good for you.”
Valderrama acknowledged the city fell down on communicating the changes to constituents.
“Knowing this change was coming,” the city should “have started earlier in 2018 more community notification as to the reasons the changes were being made and when these would take place,” Valderrama wrote The Comment.
Clark said EF&R plans to move a fire station from downtown Issaquah north to the Sieman’s complex area off East Lake Sammamish Parkway. Site selection is underway.
Deputy Mayor Moran asked Clark how much it would cost to upgrade Station 81’s staffing to 24 hours a day with an aid car and engine (restoring the serves level), or adding an engine for the 12 hour shift, making the aid car available 24 hours, or keeping a 12 hour aid car and adding a 24-hour engine. The costs range from $674,000 to $1.8m per year.