Facts about the Orcas fire levy | Opinion

by Danny Weibling

President L3911, San Juan Professional Firefighters

As President of San Juan Professional Firefighters Local 3911 (Local), I want to write a factual statement to the public about the upcoming levy. I intend not to incite fear or create animosity but to present facts. I have only worked on Orcas Island for over a year, but I believe a fresh perspective is beneficial. I acknowledge this could come across as biased as I am employed by Orcas Island Fire and Rescue, but I intend to be neutral in writing this.

Our relationship as a Local with the OIFR administration and commissioners is strong. And while I was not here during the past turmoil, I am happy to say that a lot of mending has occurred between all parties. This is due to both sides working together. I have been a professional paramedic and firefighter for over 20 years, and I have never seen this sort of a working relationship between labor and management ever in my career.

Here are the reasons we need to have the fire levy lid lift and subsequent increase in revenue:

1. We need more than the current rate and revenue from the fire levy to keep our current staffing level. If a lid lift is not passed, OIFR cannot afford to maintain the current staffing level. From a general perspective, the staffing level at OIFR is lower than what you would normally find at any other fire department. The levy revenue is only allowed a yearly increase of 1%, which doesn’t come even close to cost changes from inflation. Initiative 747 has created this problem for all fire departments in the state.

2. Our apparatus fleet is in desperate need of replacement. OIFR has done a wonderful job of budgeting with what funds are currently available, but we are at a point where we need to have funding for a replacement plan.

3. If the levy is not passed, many tough decisions will need to be made due to a lack of funding. These will include layoffs of full-time staff, including the 24/7 duty crew who respond to emergencies when 911 is called. The current apparatus fleet will not be replaced or adequately maintained, and stations will be shut down. We need full-time staff because our volunteers are only sometimes available. They also have full-time employment, families and other things going on in their lives.

4. If layoffs occur, there is a potential that Advanced Life Support services will be affected. What does this mean? A paramedic is an ALS provider and can administer lifesaving medications and perform lifesaving procedures. I am afraid of the ramifications of disrupting or terminating these services. Due to minimal medical services (i.e., no hospital emergency room), no ALS services on this island could have catastrophic effects.

I hope you will keep an open mind about this upcoming levy vote. While I am not being asked to pay more money in property taxes because I do not own property here, I care about this community where I serve. The people I have met on this island are kind, compassionate, and caring. I see what brings folks here to belong to a community that cares.