Lid Lift on August Primary Election Ballot
WEST RICHLAND, WASH. — Everyone is tired of hearing about COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus. However, it’s important to know the impacts it has had to staffing for local fire districts.
Benton County Fire District 4 is a good example. At one point, half of its full-time emergency personnel were self-quarantining. This resulted in significantly higher overtime costs as firefighters had to work multiple shifts to make sure there was an adequate emergency response.
Benton County Fire District 4 has a proud history of responding to calls with volunteer emergency personnel, and the pandemic also has reduced that number. Volunteers are dealing with new work schedules, working from home, and managing kids home from school.
For example, a volunteer paramedic had to cut her normal hours of service to the community. School closures meant she is staying home with her children and providing their home-schooling activities.
Benton County Fire District 4 also had three administrative volunteers at its fire station. They are staying home due to age and underlying health conditions that place them in high-risk categories due to the virus. While they still want to volunteer, there is no sure date as to when they can return to volunteering.
One volunteer firefighter lost his full-time job as a result of COVID-19. He was fortunate and found another one, but his new schedule prevents him from being able to respond to calls as he did in the past. It is likely he will have to take a leave of absence from the Fire District.
One career firefighter’s child lost their job because the firefighter/parent was a first responder. The employer was worried that the child would carry the virus into the workplace as a result of the firefighter/parent responding to potential COVID-19 cases.
This is happening at a point when call volumes already have increased 78.3 percent for Benton County Fire District 4 since 2010 due to growth and an aging population that relies more on emergency services. Earlier this year, Benton County Fire District 4 was sharing information about the need for additional full-time emergency personnel. In March, the Board of Fire Commissioners passed a resolution asking voters to approve a 15-cent per $1,000 of assessed property value “Fire Levy lid lift.”
If approved by voters, revenue from the Fire Levy lid lift would fund three firefighter and emergency medical technicians to improve staffing and reduce response times. The Fire Levy also helps fund the Benton County Fire District 4’s emergency medical service program, which accounts for over 60% of calls. A portion of the funding also will pay for costs associated with responding during the COVID-19 pandemic.