Aid cars are readier to roll



The Federal Way Fire Department for the first time will soon have two aid cars available around the clock for medical emergencies.

Three new firefighters will be working by June, giving the department enough manpower to have two fully staffed aid cars all the time and a third aid car half the time, officials said.

Of the approximately 11,000 calls received by the Fire Department last year, 75 percent were for medical treatment. Increased aid car service will make the department “more responsive to the needs of the community,” including a growing reliance on the department as an alternative to assistance by private ambulances, said Fire Commissioner Mark Freitas.

With more aid cars at the ready, fire trucks might not have to roll as often on medical-related calls, making them more available for fires, he added.

Currently, one aid car is on duty “100 percent and we usually run the second. Occasionally, we have been able to run the third. The second aid car does not run when firefighters are out on medical leave, illness or training,” said Monica Colby, a Fire Department spokeswoman.

The aid car issue was a factor in the department’s 2004 budget that was approved recently by the commissioners. At just under $14 million (including $9 million for salaries), the budget balances the service citizens expect with the local tax support they authorize, Freitas said.

In each of the last three years, voters in Federal Way passed propositions allowing the department to collect more than 1 percent over the previous year’s levies as allowed by state law. Another proposition will likely go before voters in September.

Also driving this year’s budget was a five-year plan for improving Fire Department services. Along with bolstering the aid car program, the plan approved last year calls for:

• Participation in a initiative to improve the overall health of firefighters. Heart disease is the leading cause of firefighter deaths, officials said. A federal grant is funding part of the wellness campaign, which officials hope will reduce healthcare costs that now exceed $1.5 million a year.

• Hiring a technician to maintain computer systems and manage their data.

Freitas, chairman of the commissioners, noted the state auditor gave the department’s financial management good marks following a two-year audit that ended this winter. Several procedures have been put in place to tighten controls of the department's funds.

Editor Pat Jenkins: 925-5565,

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