Orcas Fire’s budget explained | Guest column

Kevin O'Brien

Kevin O'Brien

by KEVIN O’BRIEN

Orcas Fire Chief

The cost of maintaining the effective emergency response system we have on Orcas Island is a significant challenge.

To deal with this challenge,  Orcas Island Fire and Rescue is meeting to discuss detailed budget analysis and appropriate expenditure of tax payer dollars.

The exceptionally high level of services that islanders have come to expect costs money, and OIFR is committed to providing those services in the most fiscally responsible manner possible.

Orcas Island Fire and Rescue exists to serve you. Everything we do is devoted to preserving the lives, property, and environment of this great island.

Over the course of time, our scope of operations has expanded to include all hazards response: EMS, fire, rescue, car accidents, chemical spills, child births, strokes, broken bones, electrical problems, overdoses, missing persons, and weather related emergencies.

Additionally, we reach out to youth through programs including fire prevention, school visits, Firewise, CPR/First Aid classes, free smoke detectors, and car seat loaners.  Simply said, when you ask for our help, we are there.

Our EMS program is robust with excellent cardiac arrest survival rates, and our ability to reduce fire loss is proficient.

We continue to grow our services to meet increasing community needs. Our newest program, Orcas Cares, is a partnership with several other island organizations, aimed at helping seniors and disabled people in need of assistance but not requiring immediate EMS attention.

Our new Strategic Plan reflects our endeavor to provide the best services possible in an “island appropriate” manner. The Strategic Plan was developed by a team of 16 community members from varying backgrounds and interests.

We conducted 17 outreach groups and asked the community what they wanted from OIFR. We found out that islanders appreciate and want us to continue the top notch emergency services we provide today. They also want us to be fiscally responsible, transparent, and to keep the community well-informed of all our operations.

The 2014 Preliminary Budget accurately reflects the goals of our Strategic Plan and mirrors what we do today.

The budget funds the 67 emergency response volunteers who take time away from families and jobs to help their neighbors.

OIFR employs eleven staff members including our excellent paramedics who respond to alarms, support the volunteers, and care for the community’s seven fire stations and equipment while providing the careful stewardship of your tax dollars.

Without the great gift of service our volunteers provide, our budget would likely double in order to fund paid responders.

The expenditure budget of $1,712,441 is a realistic reflection of our operations today and includes some operational changes that were made in 2013 after the approval of the 2013 budget. $107,012 of the budget includes an assistant chief paramedic, an increase in time for a finance officer, and an increase in time for a volunteer coordinator/public information officer.

There are four primary factors that influence our budget:

1. An increase in requests for our services (OIFR call volume has increased 27.2 percent since 2011)

2. A need to staff appropriately to serve our community

3. The increasing requirements of current laws, standards, and business practices

4. The stewardship of seven fire stations and 22 pieces of rolling stock

Similar to the budgets of families and businesses on the island, the costs of providing emergency services has risen.

Since 2000, the Seattle, Tacoma, Bremerton Consumer Price Index has risen 37 percent (this does not include the cost of doing business on Orcas).

Added to that increase is the time required to train recruit responders, now a remarkable 174 hours, a 129 percent increase from 1998.  And the cost to outfit that recruit has increased a staggering 257 percent, from $1121 in 1998 to $4000 today, but critical in order to keep our volunteers safe.

Orcas Island Fire and Rescue will continue to provide the high quality assistance our community requires, thanks to our dedicated volunteers, staff, and your support.