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City of SeaTac to contract with Kent RFA for fire services
The Kent Fire Department Regional Fire Authority (RFA) will provide fire services to the city of SeaTac starting in January.
The SeaTac City Council and RFA board each recently approved a 20-year inter-local agreement contract with SeaTac paying the RFA for fire services. SeaTac will pay about $9 million per year, according to city documents.
"What's important for us is SeaTac contracted for services," said Kent RFA Chief Jim Schneider during a phone interview. "It doesn't cost the RFA a penny."
SeaTac has contracted with the RFA since 2011 for chief administrative, emergency management, fire prevention, fire investigation and training services. Schneider has served as the RFA and SeaTac chief for the past two years.
But in January the two departments will become one, although fire trucks and stations in SeaTac will keep the SeaTac name. SeaTac Mayor Tony Anderson did not return emails or voicemails for comment about the contract.
The RFA serves about 119,000 Kent residents, 17,760 Covington residents and 6,100 unincorporated King County residents who used to be part of Fire District 37. SeaTac has a population of about 27,000.
Voters in Kent, Covington and Fire District 37 approved the formation of the RFA in 2010. Schneider and fire officials proposed the RFA in order to levy a property tax as well a new fire-benefit charge. The fire-benefit charge is a variable rate based on the square footage and the amount of service provided to each house or business. Voters approved the RFA for six years, which means officials must seek voter approval again in 2016.
Schneider said the fire departments needed the new funding mechanism simply to keep the same level of service. Kent previously funded its fire department through the city's general fund.
Covington and Fire District 37 used to contract services with Kent, similar to what SeaTac will do with the RFA starting in January.
"It's taken a lot of work by both departments," Schneider said. "It does not happen if we were not on the same page. It took about three years to bring this about."
SeaTac's 44 firefighters will become part of the RFA, which has more than 200 employees, including about 170 firefighters. That means firefighters who work in SeaTac might end up working in Kent and that those now working in Kent could end up at SeaTac stations.
"Nobody will really see any difference," Schneider said about service calls. "If you call 911 and want help, whether the personnel is from Kent or SeaTac you just want help."
SeaTac could end the 20-year contract after the first five years but must give two-years notice to end it, Schneider said.
Schneider said more fire departments could merge in the future.
"It's hard for city fire departments to survive with all of the property tax restrictions," he said. "I think someday more will join together. Then you can have one chief, one fire marshal. You come together for economy of scale."
Kent is part of a firefighting training consortium that includes SeaTac, Tukwila, Maple Valley Fire and Life Safety and Burien/North Highline. The agencies combine training resources to reduce costs by cutting redundancy. They train at the Kent facility at 24523 116th Ave. S.E.
"There are more than 450 firefighters training at one facility," Schneider said.
Since the RFA formation, Schneider said Kent has been able to maintain a high level of service.
"It's working out really well," he said. "I think the citizens are happy."