Don’t lose your Mercer Island Fire Department | Guest column

Guest column

  • Wednesday, October 21, 2020 1:30am
  • Opinion
Ray Austin is the union president and 20-year veteran of Mercer Island Fire Department.

Ray Austin is the union president and 20-year veteran of Mercer Island Fire Department.

The Mercer Island City Council is considering a proposal to eliminate your fire department. Your local firefighters love this community and would hate to see that happen.

The Mercer Island Fire Department has a very special relationship with this community, and all of us — as well as you, I am sure — don’t want to lose that. We are a small, efficient, highly trained department with only 28 line firefighters that work exceptionally hard to provide you with extraordinary service.

The city recently finalized a staffing study of the fire department that was presented at the Oct. 6 city council meeting. Its purpose was to determine if the fire department is functioning efficiently with the current staffing model, and also to see if there are opportunities to reduce costs without sacrificing current service levels.

The study was completed by Robert Finn and Emily Moon, two experienced consultants that specialize in fire department and municipality staffing. The study concluded that the MIFD is functioning in a highly efficient manner.

The study also explored whether it was cost-efficient to have another agency provide fire and EMS services to Mercer Island. This means that fire and emergency services for Mercer Island would be provided by another department.

This would eliminate your Mercer Island Fire Department.

The consultants concluded that the most viable option is the Bellevue Fire Department, but the study also found that there was no money to be saved. Even worse, by year three of a contract with Bellevue, it will actually cost more.

Disregarding the conclusions of their own study, the council in a 4-3 vote on Oct. 6 directed staff members to come up with a budget to develop a request for proposal, or a formal, legally vetted way of requesting from outside agencies what it would cost to outsource fire and EMS services and eliminate the MIFD.

All taxpayers applaud the city council’s efforts to save money, especially in these tough times. But now they want to spend even more money to answer a question that already cost more than $60,000 to answer. Ms. Moon ballparked the cost of developing this outsourcing proposal at an additional $80,000.

At the Mercer Island Fire Department, our commitment to the community we serve is personal. Mercer Island residents deserve better than an urban department mired in bureaucracy with dozens of different firefighters rotating through our stations. That personal touch and connection to the community would be gone.

It’s been my privilege to work in this department and serve this community for more than 20 years. I speak for all the members of the department when I say that we will continue to provide the highest level of service to this very special community. You can contact me at iaff1762@gmail.com.

Please let your city council know how you feel about eliminating your fire department and outsourcing your fire and EMS services at council@mercergov.org.

Ray Austin is the union president and 20-year veteran of Mercer Island Fire Department.


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