Graham Fire & Rescue Increases Staffing Levels

Graham Fire & Rescue is on the way to making emergency services better and safer for local residents and personnel. Last February, voters approved a four-year Maintenance and Operations Levy to increase staffing as well as start equipment and apparatus replacement programs.

The fire district filled four open positions in September. This allowed staffing of one additional medic unit to respond to emergency medical service calls this year. (Currently, 70 percent of all calls received by the agency are EMS-related.)

Before the M&O Levy passed, the fire district was funded by two levies: one for fire and another for EMS. Call volumes had increased 27 percent in seven years, and revenue wasn’t keeping up with the demand for service. When the M&O Levy passed, the fire district planned to use the three revenue sources to gradually hire 18 positions as funding became available. However, Graham Fire & Rescue recently received a grant from the federal government, which means those positions can be filled faster.

Now, 10 new positions are expected to be filled by April 2019 and eight more by the following September. The fire district anticipates this will add one additional medic unit next year in addition to adding personnel to fire engines.

Chief Pat Dale joined the agency just over a year ago. “The two concerns I heard when I arrived was response times and staffing levels. We developed a plan and made our case with the public, who agreed to this temporary funding. We are grateful for this support. Now it’s our responsibility to communicate how these positions are improving emergency services.”

Additional staffing will reduce response times, and also improve public safety and that of emergency personnel. For example, it requires a minimum of three firefighters to enter a building if it is on fire. Currently, the fire district staffs an engine with two people and must wait for a second unit to arrive before it can perform any search and rescue operation.

The National Fire Protection Association recommends staffing fire engines and ladder trucks with a minimum of three firefighters. Chief Dale says the M&O Levy will move the fire district closer to this industry standard.

In a medical emergency, additional reliability of units is also important. For example, in cases of a heart attack, as many as 10 firefighter/EMTs or paramedics are needed for high performance CPR to ensure the best possible outcome for a patient. Having additional personnel on-scene also supports medical care of critical patients while they are transported to area hospitals.

While things are looking good, Chief Dale reminds the public that the M&O Levy is temporary and will expire in 2022. At that time voters will have the choice to renew it, or find another sustainable funding source to make the service level improvements permanent.

“We’re keeping our community informed every step of the way,” said Chief Dale. “These are your tax dollars we use to save lives and property, and we take that responsibility seriously.”

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Graham Fire & Rescue was founded in 1962 and currently serves 65,000 people over 70 square miles in unincorporated Pierce County, Wash. The fire district is a proud combination department with full-time, part-time and volunteer emergency personnel serving families and businesses in the community. It operates under a balanced budget and has passed all its financial and accountability audits by the state. More information about Graham Fire and Rescue can be found at www.grahamfire.com.