Why would more than 7,500 vote against the South King Fire and Rescue bond? Is it because these citizens hold their personal safety in such low regard that they are unwilling to pay a mere $6.50 a month for long overdue upgrades?
Or perhaps, as Chief Al Church suggested, maybe these people were confused by a ballot with two public safety measures. Another theory for these no votes, as suggested by Captain Jeff Bellinghausen, was that the “opposition” misled voters with “half-truths and exaggerations.”
In addition to being somewhat insulting, suggesting that voters were careless, confused or gullible still doesn’t explain why South King Fire leadership has been unable to pass a bond in the last 20-plus years. Always the optimist, Church responded to news of yet another loss by saying, “We’ll regroup and come back with another plan. What that plan is, I’m not sure.”
Having co-authored the opposition statement in the voters’ pamphlet, I’m sure I’m the last person from whom South King Fire wants to take advice for their new plan. However, I have spoken with 100 or so people who voted no to ask them why. If the fire district has any hope of breaking their losing streak, a losing streak that is hurting our entire community, they should probably start here.
Concern No. 1: Why fire trucks? According to data provided by Valley 911, each South King Fire station responds to an average of 10 fires and 180 medical or service calls every month. If the district is going to 18 non-fire calls for every fire call, why not respond with something smaller than a fire truck?
This also begs the related question of why the district insists on taking fire trucks to the grocery store, which happens a minimum of 12 times a month. If the trucks are really so worn out and so desperately in need of replacement, why not leave them at the station and just send one person in a car to get groceries? If there is a fire while getting groceries, why couldn’t this one person just meet the others at the scene?
Concern No. 2: Why fire trucks? This isn’t a typo. Why do we need so many giant fire trucks? How many fires last year couldn’t have been handled by the much smaller (and less expensive) rapid response vehicles being used around the world?
Do we really need full size, gas guzzling, $500,000 fire trucks, let alone a dozen of them? Why not respond to the thousands of non-emergency calls each year in a car or small SUV, saving the fire trucks for when they are really needed?
Concern No. 3: Why not charge the people who are using the service, or at least the people who are abusing the service? According to data from Valley 911, a single house in Federal Way received more than 80 visits from South King Fire in 2014. I understand the district is hesitant to charge people, but 80 visits?! Or, how about following the example of our police department and start charging for false alarms, which average more than 80 a month? At a minimum, why can’t the district just stop responding to the hundreds of non-emergency service calls?
Concern No. 4: Don’t we give South King Fire enough money already? If the district can afford to pay $200,000 a year for an empty piece of land on the edge of town, why not use that money to buy a new truck every three years?
The district knows how long roofs and trucks last, why haven’t they been saving up for their replacements? It wasn’t that long ago the district did save up for new equipment (and the city still follows this policy), why did they stop?
Concern No. 5: Can we trust the district leadership to make good decisions with our money? I know this sounds personal, but it’s not. It’s just that the only time we hear from district leadership is when they are trying to get money.
They also seem to totally ignore any concerns or complaints that are raised by citizens. Yes, we all know that Jerry Galland has some kind of vendetta against the district, but this doesn’t mean they should ignore his concerns. Every time Galland or anyone else raises a concern the district ignores, we have no choice but to assume the concern is at least partially valid.
Would fixing these concerns convince all 7,500 people to vote yes? Probably not.
Would it convince enough people to pass the bond by a large margin? Certainly. Despite having been a long-time critic, if South King Fire were to address even a fraction of these issues I would gladly waive a “Vote Yes” sign on Highway 99 and South 320th every morning for a month.
So how about you? If you voted no, what would it take you to change your vote? Alternatively, if you voted yes, how would you answer these concerns?
Send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org. While you’re at it, Cc your email to info@SouthKingFire.org so that maybe, just maybe, we can break this 20-plus year losing streak.
Contact Federal Way resident Matthew Jarvis at email@example.com.