Q&A: South King Fire & Rescue Commissioner Pos. 2 candidates

Incumbent Bill Fuller is challenged by Julian Martinez

courtesy photo
Bill Fuller.

courtesy photo Bill Fuller.

The Federal Way Mirror asked the South King Fire & Rescue commissioner candidates a few questions about their priorities and plans if elected. Read the Position 2 candidate responses below. The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 2.

Editor’s note: Candidate Julian Martinez did not return a response by the Mirror’s deadline.

Bill Fuller (incumbent)

Brief description of yourself: Very soon after starting my 35 year career at Weyerhaeuser, I became a volunteer firefighter in South Snohomish County Fire District 1 at Station. When Weyerhaeuser’s R&D program at the Technology Center in Federal Way, I reluctantly retired as a Lieutenant. EMT and station training officer after 9 years of service. In addition to my technical role at Weyerhaeuser, I was the Safety and Health Director at the Technology Center for three years and Western Region Safety Manager for pulp mills for 2 years. During this time in Occupation Safety and Health, I managed the Hazardous Waste Facility at the Technology Center that disposed of hazardous chemicals from throughout the Company.

Top three priorities if elected:

A. Property taxes are 79% of the revenue funding South King Fire. This source of funding is highly dependent on changes in the economy and property values. The economic crisis in 2008 resulted in reductions in staffing and equipment. We need to evaluate other funding alternatives such as a fire benefit charge or formation of a regional fire authority . These methods do not rely solely on property tax revenue as the primary funding source.

B. Through the oversight and long-range planning role of the Fire Commissioners, a new five-year plan will be developed to meet the challenges that face Federal Way in areas such as continued population growth, the impact of Rapid Transit, future station location as construction continues at a steady pace and large scale emergency events (the Big One).

C. South King Fire and Rescue must maintain the Level 2 rating by the Washington State Survey and Rating Bureau that determines the cost of insurance of homes and businesses. This multi-faceted periodic examination looks at every aspect of the organization, funding, operational and results. The Board’s role in strategic guidance is critical to this rating. There are no Level 1 rated departments in the state.

Why are you running for the South King Fire & Rescue Board of Commissioners?

My term as fire commissioner has allowed me to work with strong department leadership and staff, highly skilled, motivated fire fighters, four outstanding Commissioners, the city leaders and businesses of Federal Way. I know of no other job that would allow this wide range of personal contact. Of the organizations I have worked with in industry and public service, SKFR is the best I have had the privilege of working with. But in addition to these valuable interactions, there have been significant challenges during the last 6 years. Passage of capital operations levy allowed earthquake stabilizing 6 stations, purchase of 3 new engines and a ladder truck. A grant from the State of Washington and capital reserves resulted in the replacement of an 18-year-old fire boat and 2 new engines to replace reserve engines well-beyond their useful life.. The most significant event that I was privileged to take part in was the County-wide emergency response to COVID-19. Beyond SKFR, I have participated in the King County Fire Commissioners Association with Fire Commissioners throughout King County as the Associate Member Chair and website. With this kind of rewarding department, community and government interaction, it was a very easy decision to run for re-election.

What do you see as the most pressing issue impacting the safety of Federal Way residents, and what do you intend to do about it?

South King CARES (Community Assistance Referral and Education Services) s a program shared with Valley Regional Fire Authority. An EMT Firefighter and Social Worker are teamed to respond to low acuity 911 (less urgent) calls such as ability to get up, falls without injury and emotional issues. Their response is used instead of dispatching an aid crew (aid car or engine) to help the person. The care does not end there. The social worker assesses the patient and determines what social services might help them in the future. It is not a “one visit” program. Patient follow-up is done to be sure there is a better longer-term solution. This program is focused on senior citizens, of course. Volunteers are needed to help provide follow-up. I will assist in recruiting volunteers. After all, I am a senior citizen!

The fire district operates on a budget upwards of $35 million. What areas do you believe are unacceptable to face budget cuts and why?

Personnel are 80% of the annual SKFR spending. The other spending categories might be considered “fixed” costs that must be spent to operate the department (utilities, equipment and supplies, maintenance, and capital reserves, for example). When the economy takes a drastic downturn and home values drop, property tax revenues can drastically decrease. This occurred in the 2008 decline. This resulted in the reduced staffing for several aid cars and moving to a 3-platoon vs. 4 platoon station staffing. Facing a firefighter reduction is unacceptable to be able respond to over 20,000 calls for service. About 85% of these calls are for medical aid. Budget performance by the department is exceptional. Each month, the reported expenditures are consistently within 0.5% under-budget. Spending is being managed with strong discipline.

The Board of Fire Commissioners recently made a policy prohibiting unvaccinated firefighters from working with patients. Do you support this policy? Why or why not?

The Governor’s mandate stated that all personnel performing medical aid in South King Fire and Rescue calls be fully vaccinated. The only accommodation allowed is based on a religious basis. Even then, the unvaccinated employees must protect fellow workers with distancing and masking in the workplace. A department might have non-medical exposure jobs that an unvaccinated might be transferred to, if available. It is common knowledge that I and the other commissioners unanimously made this policy. All other departments in Zone 3 (South of Seattle and Bellevue) did the same. By granting accommodations that defy the mandate and allow unvaccinated firefighters to treat patients, the departments are at risk of losing their state license to practice basic and advanced life support. This would be unacceptable.

Editor’s note: This story was abridged for the print edition.

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