Steamboat Fire District inclusion frequently asked questions
Editor’s note: This submission was corrected at 12:45 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 11 to accurately reflect that there are five at-large board members on the Steamboat Springs Area Fire Protection District Board.
What happens if the citizens decide not to include themselves in the Steamboat Springs Area Fire Protection District?
The ability for our first responders to respond to calls for service will continue to decrease. Currently, 25 percent of all 911 calls that the fire department is dispatched to receive a less than adequate or delayed response. This is due to multiple calls happening at the same time. As call volume continues to rise, which it is projected to do, the occurrence of simultaneous calls will grow exponentially. In addition, the fire department’s current staffing model is inadequate when compared to nationwide industry standards for fire response. If this is not approved the safety of our firefighters and citizens will continue to be put at risk.
Why don’t we privatize the ambulance service?
Privatizing the ambulance would not reduce costs or staffing of the fire department, and privatizing the ambulance would eliminate an important source of revenue collected by the fire department. The National Fire Protection Association, the organization that sets the standards for fire service, states that a residential structure fire shall have 15 firefighters on scene within eight minutes of a 911 call. Currently, with staffing of eight personnel, Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue is far below that minimum number of firefighters, so privatizing ambulance service would not reduce the number of firefighters required to be on duty.
Additionally, the fire department is able to bill patients for EMS service. That billing is a significant source of revenue for the department. If ambulance service were privatized, a significant revenue source that offsets part of the operational costs of running a fire department would be gone.
Furthermore, because of the total call volume of the area, any private ambulance service would need to be subsidized to operate in this area, so costs to taxpayers would in-fact increase. Finally, as addressed above, the fire engine would still need to respond to EMS calls to provide proper service. Privatizing ambulance service reduces efficiency and increases costs to taxpayers.
Why does the fire engine go to ambulance calls?
The fire engine assists the ambulance on EMS calls in three main ways:
- The engine supplies additional medics to provide proper medical care. When people are very sick or critically injured the fire department provides the same medical interventions that that patient would receive in the first 10 to 30 minutes of arrival to the emergency department. When seconds count, getting more medical providers to the scene allows medical interventions to happen efficiently. Two medical providers on an ambulance are simply not enough for most 911 medical calls.
- The engine crew assists with moving patients. More often than not, when someone calls 911 they cannot move under their own power. It requires more than two people to provide medical care for a patient while they are carried down stairs, out of cars, from fields, up stairs and to the ambulance.
- The engine provides tools and equipment to help with medical care and extrication. Finally, the fire engine is a big toolbox. It does much more than put out fires, it carries medical equipment, ropes, extrication equipment and anything else needed to care for patients and extricate them if they are trapped.
What am I getting if the city is included in the fire district?
In short, the capabilities of your fire department will be doubled. Additional staff and apparatus will be put in service at a central downtown station to keep pace with emergency calls.
Currently, the fire department is struggling to keep up with the number of 911 calls it receives. The department is significantly understaffed for fires and larger emergencies that it responds to. By including the city in the fire district, the fire department will be able to keep pace with call volume and provide significantly increased emergency services, especially in the downtown area which includes our schools and main commercial district.
Why a property tax?
Many funding models have been explored for funding fire and emergency services. Of all options, a dedicated property tax is the most sustainable, efficient and equitable means to fund emergency services. Sales tax numbers ebb and flow as the economy fluctuates but the need for emergency services is always present. Property tax is far more stable and less affected by changes in our economy. A property tax is more equitable, it more evenly distributes the costs of emergency services across the citizens who use those services. A property tax would mean that emergency services no longer need to compete with other departments in the city for funding each year.
To properly fund fire services under the current funding system, large cuts would be required to services that our community has stated are important to them, things such as bus routes, Howelsen Hill and parks and recreation. A property tax provides a sustainable mechanism to fund emergency services now and into the future.
How will I be represented?
Currently, the fire district has five at-large board positions, with elections held every two years. Anyone who is subject to the mill levy is eligible to run and be elected to the district board. These board members are charged with providing the highest level of fire service for citizens in the district at the lowest cost possible.
This Q&A was provided by Chris Welch in his role as vice president of Steamboat Springs Professional Firefighters, a fire services employee union. It has been edited for clarity.
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