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Proposed fire services budget detailed for council

The Sunnyside City Council at its budget workshop last night heard from Sunnyside Fire Chief Aaron Markham about his department's proposed 2011-12 biennial budget.

The fire department budget is projected at more than $2.2 million, of which more than $183,000 is proposed for 2011 and about $1,000 less in 2012 in administration costs.

Suppression expenditures are projected between $465,000 and $473,000 for the next two years, and fire prevention is projected at more than $230,000 each year.

Training for firefighters and personnel, said Markham is projected to cost more than $215,000 in 2011 and more than $219,000 in 2012.

The overall expenditures proposed are less than those budgeted in 2009 and 2010.

He told the council there have been several accomplishments made possible this past year because of funding to the fire department. The department expects to select a design firm for its proposed fire station by the end of 2010. Because of the training and several other factors, the fire department maintained its fire rating and this past year the department's manuals and policies have been updated.

The overhead doors at the Sunnyside Fire Station were replaced and a new roof was installed.

Also, a small enclosed utility trailer for hazardous material response equipment was purchased below budget, according to Markham.

He was asked by Deputy Mayor Nick Paulakis and Mayor Jim Restucci about the fire rating. They wanted to know what a rating of five means and how it can be improved.

Markham told the council fire ratings range from zero to eight, eight being the lowest. The rating, he said, determines insurance rates and several factors would lead to a better rating. Some of those factors include additional training, newer hoses (which the department has budgeted annually) and some equipment updates, as well as other "deficiencies."

Because training is important, Markham has proposed an increase in the budget for his staff to update or maintain their skills.

He told the council there are decreases in the budget elsewhere to offset those costs.

Increases in the budget also include dispatch services from Yakima County Fire District #5 and salary raises agreed upon in collective bargaining.

The fire control budget covers about 60 percent of the salaries for 17 full-time employees and 19 volunteer firefighters.

Markham said he has added overtime expenses for the fire prevention budget, allowing staff to educate the public on fire prevention measures. This includes the EDITH House, which targets an audience of third graders.

The fire department provides a number of services to the city of Sunnyside, said Markham. Those services include fire suppression, fire prevention and investigation, trench rescue, water rescue, confined space rescue, an ammonia response team and high/low angle rescue.

The confined space rescue is new for 2011 and 2012. For that firefighters will be provided training if the proposed budget is approved.

Markham said confined space rescue is an important service because there are many situations for which training is necessary. Confined spaces include controlled atmosphere warehouses, vaults and large underground pipes, all of which exist in Sunnyside.

The fire department's current policy is to assess the situation, determine a patient's status and to deny entry if necessary. With proper training, rescue personnel will be able to conduct rescue efforts.

Markham's budget includes ambulance and EMS services. This year, the Sunnyside Fire Department has received more than 1,200 EMS calls, including mutual aid and transfers.

There have been 252 fire calls to date.

The overall fire control budget is expected to grow by about $200,000.

The fire department has an equipment reserve fund, as well. From that fund, Markham and Sunnyside Finance and Administrative Services Director Byron Olson have proposed utilizing $35,000 for professional services for the design of a new fire station.

Markham said obtaining the design would enable the department to seek a potential bond levy for both a new station and new apparatus. "There is potential of a an improved ISO (Insurance Services Office) rating that could offset the cost of the levied amount for the average homeowner," said Markham.

The proposed 2011-12 ambulance budget includes more than $360,000 in administration expenditures and about $200,000 in training costs. This is about $14,000 less than 2009 and 2010 combined, but the overall expenditures are expected to be about $17,800 more for the next two years than the past two.

The other 40 percent of salaries are included in the ambulance budget because most staff members are dual trained for both fire and EMT services.

Unfortunately, there are declines in revenues received by the ambulance service because about 66 percent of the patients are covered by Medicare or Medicaid. The Sunnyside Fire Department is able to collect about 54 percent of the amount billed to Medicare and just more than 35 percent billed to Medicaid.

The city does, however, get a tax write-off for some of the uncollected funds.

The ambulance service, said Markham, provides full-time advanced life support services with on-duty paramedics. There are eight paramedics, an intermediate EMT, four airway technicians, 15 basic EMTs and a certified billing coder on staff at the fire department.

"We cover our area very well," Markham said to the council.

Paulakis asked him if the ambulance service receives its own rating, to which Markham responded, saying the ambulance has a trauma license.

As for equipment due for replacement, Markham said the city has one apparatus, a 1982 Ford Darley Pumper that is the last of the 1,000 gallon per minute pumpers in the department's fleet. He said it is due for replacement in the next couple of years.

Council members asked about replacement costs and Markham said it is dependent upon the equipment being considered to replace the old apparatus. The range is from $250,000 to more than $1 million.

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