January 18, 2023
Staffing cannot keep up with higher call volumes and overlapping calls
Call volumes for Camano Island Fire & Rescue have increased 28 percent in the past five years. On average, Camano Fire responds to almost 2,300 calls per year, of which 66 percent are for Emergency Medical Services (EMS). Nearly 20 percent of all calls are overlapping calls – when two or more calls come in while crews are already responding to a call.
Revenue, however, is not keeping up with the demand for and costs to provide services.
“We want to be transparent with our community,” Chief Levon Yengoyan said. “Right now, we are struggling to keep up with the demand for service. We need more firefighters.”
Camano Fire relies on full-time, part-time, and volunteer emergency personnel to provide services for fire suppression and prevention, EMS, water and rope rescue, hazardous material spills, car accidents that may require vehicle extrication, and fire and life safety education classes.
More medical calls challenge department’s medical units
EMS calls account for 66 percent of all emergency calls; however, Camano Fire has just one paramedic per shift to provide Advanced Life Support (ALS). ALS is the highest level of emergency care that can be provided outside a hospital. Paramedics can start intravenous lines and administer lifesaving medication, provide advanced airway management to help patients breathe, and perform other lifesaving care for trauma, heart attack, stroke, and critical infections.
Additionally, the nearest hospital is a 60-plus-mile round trip. Transporting a patient can take an ambulance and its emergency personnel out of service for as long as five hours. If two transports happen at the same time and another call comes in, Camano Fire must rely on mutual aid from agencies located in Stanwood or north Snohomish County, which take longer to reach the island.
How Camano Fire is funded
Camano Fire is not part of Island County government. It is a separate taxing district and does not receive any funding from Island County. Camano Fire’s daily operations are funded by a regular levy capped at $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The regular levy also funds capital projects such as apparatus replacement or fire station renovations.
A separate levy capped at $0.50 per $1,000 funds Emergency Medical Services. This money can only be used for EMS staffing and equipment. Voters approved an EMS levy of $0.50 per $1,000 in 2021.
In 2017, voters approved a regular levy rate of $1.35 per $1,000. Since that time, the levy rate has fallen to $0.83 per $1,000, while call volumes have increased 28 percent.
Why do levy rates fall?
When a levy rate is approved by voters, it establishes a set amount the department can collect each year. State law limits Camano Fire to collecting only that amount plus an additional one percent more each year. Even if property values double, Camano Fire can only collect one percent more. This means mathematically the levy rate must fall over time to less than the original amount approved by voters.
This is called “levy erosion” and impacts a fire department’s ability to provide emergency services.
Camano Fire regularly works to save taxpayers money by applying for grants, partnering with neighboring agencies to share costs, and maintaining fire engines and ambulances to extend their usable lives. These cost-saving measures are not enough to replace regular levy funding or fund the department’s daily operations.
Camano Fire is considering asking voters to raise the regular levy from $0.83 to $1.25 per $1,000 sometime this year. The department will make a final decision after a public process is conducted.
“We want our community to understand how we are funded, what our limitations are and how we use their tax dollars to protect lives and property,” Chief Yengoyan said. “We report to you and look forward to having this important conversation.”
More information about Camano Island Fire & Rescue can be found at www.camanofire.com. Chief Yengoyan also welcomes your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-387-1512.