The Key Peninsula Fire District will assign two career firefighter/EMTs to the Longbranch Fire Station 24 hours a day starting in August, according to Fire Chief Dustin Morrow.
Up to now, volunteers have responded from the station, located at 4215 Key Peninsula Highway SW, opposite the Longbranch Improvement Club.
“Passing the EMS levy last year helped out our staffing situation,” Morrow said, allowing the department to hire an additional three firefighter/EMTs. “This will really improve our response times on the south end.”
When the station is staffed, at least seven and as many as 10 career personnel will be on duty on the KP at all times, up from five when he started in April 2019, Morrow said. Morrow and Assistant Chief Hal Wolverton also share the role of duty chief, each being on call every other day, 365 days a year, to respond to any incident.
Volunteer firefighters will also begin responding out of the Key Center fire station in August for the first time in recent memory.
“Right now, if we get two calls, we depend on mutual aid (from neighboring departments),” Morrow said.
The district will also reinstitute the rank of captain on the KP with the intention of associating individual officers with specific stations to build relationships in the communities they serve.
“Our neighborhoods have different needs and we need to be out there more,” Morrow said. “On the south end, for example, where we have an older population, we should be talking to people about preventing falls and injuries at home.”
Morrow also wants new officers to handle more administrative and regulatory tasks, to groom them for management as well as leadership.
“We used to lose people because there was no room for advancement,” Morrow said. “I went to the fire commissioners and we decided to promote three lieutenants to captain, to work at their own stations, get them out in the community and give them more internal responsibility. That gives us three new lieutenants. And that gives us the opportunity and time to train them, develop them and provide a viable career path here on the Key Peninsula. That way, in 10 years or so, we’ll be able to promote from within for the higher ranks.”
Promotion evaluations were administered in July. The successful candidates will be announced in late July or early August, according to Morrow.
The KPFD also recruits heavily from its volunteers, who are products of one of the most popular and successful training programs in the region, he said.
“Many departments have volunteers in all kinds of support roles, like driving a tender or doing air supply. Here we train and use them as full-on firefighters and EMTs — they are meant to work side-by-side with career personnel and step into those roles. It’s hard to get that kind of experience, and we attract a lot of talent because of it,” Morrow said.
“Everybody here is either an EMT or paramedic on the crew side and we have some volunteer EMTs as well,” he said. About 80 percent of KP emergency calls are medical, which is consistent across the fire service.
In August 2019, KP voters approved a permanent levy to fund emergency medical services. The new levy has the same rate as the two-year levy it replaced, charging property owners 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. But as the value goes up and down, the rate of collection fluctuates. The department must regularly report its EMS spending to the public, which can change the levy by referendum.
KPFD is asking voters to renew a separate levy Aug. 4 for its maintenance and operations.
“The levy that we ran in 2019 was focused specifically around our EMS operations, the medical side of our house. This levy is our fire side of the house,” Morrow said.
The M&O levy pays for salaries, training, administration and repairs. Unlike other funding for the district, the M&O levy requires a specific financial goal. “We don’t get to ask for 35 cents per $1,000, we have to come out and say a dollar amount,” Morrow said. “Then that number, depending on the community’s assessed value, sets the millage rate.”
The 2020 levy would maintain the $800,000 per year target of the last two M&O levies passed in 2012 and 2016. Although the amount requested remains the same, rising property values have decreased the approximate taxation rate by about 35 percent. KPFD decided not to ask for an increase.
“Although our fire district could use additional funding, we feel like this is not the right time to ask the community that question,” Morrow said, citing the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. “We’re going to work within what we have.”