Editorials

Our Voice: Fire districts need money so they can get to you faster

The population continues to grow on the edge of the Tri-Cities, making it more difficult for crews from Benton County Fire District 1 and Benton County Fire District 4 to reach people. Officials in both districts are asking for more tax money so they can reduce emergency response times in the areas they cover.
The population continues to grow on the edge of the Tri-Cities, making it more difficult for crews from Benton County Fire District 1 and Benton County Fire District 4 to reach people. Officials in both districts are asking for more tax money so they can reduce emergency response times in the areas they cover. Tri-City Herald

We believe Benton County Fire District 1 does a solid job providing emergency medical service to people living inside the district’s boundaries, but it isn’t as good as it could be.

That’s because it lacks its own ambulance service, and has to rely on other districts to fill that gap. Fire Chief Lonnie Click and his crew would like to change that, but it will take additional money.

Fire District 1 officials are considering asking voters to approve an emergency medical service levy that would add 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. Fire commissioners are expected in April to decide whether to put the measure to voters.

In the meantime, Click and other supporters of the proposal have been working hard to get the attention of those voters living in the 320-square-mile fire district who would have to foot the bill.

By all accounts, Click and his crew are doing everything right. They want the public to know about the plan long before it comes before the commissioners for formal discussion.

There are several informational meetings planned on the issue, including one at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 20, at the Rancho Reata station on Bermuda Road.

Another one is at 6:30 p.m. April 3 at the Finley station, and another at 9 a.m. April 17 at the district headquarters in Kennewick.

If the measure goes to voters and is approved, it would increase the district’s revenue by about $850,000 a year, allowing it to hire seven people to help crew two new ambulances.

The district is responsible for people living in Finley, Badger Canyon, Rancho Reata and south Kennewick — where population has boomed. The need for an ambulance service is needed, quite simply, so people can be taken to the hospital faster.

Click said that the average response time ranges from 7  1/2 minutes in east Kennewick to 16 minutes in south Finley. Having an ambulance service would cut response times across the district — in some places, by as much as 14 minutes.

The new ambulance service also would lessen the burden of other fire districts that routinely help out District 1.

Click and his crew are going about this plan the right way by trying to inform people of the need for the levy before commissioners consider it.

The least people can do is listen and participate in the discussion. We think if they do, they will be swayed to support it.

A similar need to cut down on emergency response times is also apparent in another part of the Tri-Cities.

Benton County Fire District 4, which covers the West Richland area, wants to build and equip a fire station in the western part of its service territory.

Right now, getting to that part of the district can take crews almost 17 minutes, which is frighteningly long.

Population has been spreading west in that district, and the drive from the Bombing Range Road station to homes along Red Mountain Road and Sunset Road is too far for an acceptable response time.

Fire commissioners for Benton County Fire District 4 will consider putting a 20-year bond measure before voters in August that would cost taxpayers in the district 28 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. That would add $56 a year to the annual property tax bill of a $200,000 home.

If approved, it would pay for a new $7.5 million three-bay fire station.

Like their counterparts in Fire District 1, the West Richland district is trying to be as transparent as possible about the need for more money.

It will hold a meeting on the issue at 6 p.m. Thursday at Station 420 on Bombing Range Road. Another meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. April 5 at the same fire station.

The Tri-Cities is booming around its edges, and our emergency crews are trying to keep up with that growth.

Reducing the time it takes emergency crews to arrive is critical, and fire district officials are making a good case for more money. Voters in their districts should hear them out.

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