Kennewick and Richland plan to add positions in their fire departments, but only Kennewick's plans are tied to the 0.3 percent public safety sales tax measure.
Both departments are trying to build and staff new fire stations to improve response times.
Kennewick added three new police officers last year using property tax revenue, but plans to shift the property tax dollars to the fire department if Benton County voters approve the sales tax.
Three new fire captains -- one for each of three shifts -- would be needed for Kennewick's fifth fire station, which is in the planning stages, Fire Chief Neil Hines said. Otherwise, the department would have to use existing employees to staff the new station. The department has been budgeted to have no more than 75 firefighters for more than a decade.
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Richland plans to add six firefighters -- who also serve as paramedics or emergency medical technicians -- to staff the city's fourth fire station on Duportail Street, which is expected to open next year, Fire Chief Grant Baynes said.
The firefighters and the new station will be paid for using revenue from the city's ambulance utility fees and electric utility taxes, Baynes said.
The new positions will bring the Richland fire department up to 54 operational personnel. That should be enough for the city's current needs because local cities and fire districts have a well-developed system of automatic mutual aid, Baynes said.
"Without that, we would never have enough people," he said.
A residential structure fire needs at least 15 to 17 people to respond, Baynes said. A commercial structure fire needs more like 25.
"We focus on having a regional service with local governance and seeing how far we can take that," Baynes said.
Kennewick spent $645,000 on overtime in the fire department last year, while Richland paid about $559,000.
Baynes and the union leadership in Richland have been concerned about overtime levels, which are frankly too much, he said. People sometimes work 48 to 72 hours in a row instead of 24 hours.
Much of Kennewick's fire overtime is caused by the department's 17-person minimum, Hines said. Almost all fire calls are emergencies where life is threatened or high property damage is possible. Firefighters/paramedics and firefighters/EMTs end up getting called in when others are sick or injured or helping in fires in other parts of the state.
The state or federal government does reimburse the city for overtime caused by state mobilization fires.