With the latest addition of the Tukwila Fire Department, Kent-based Puget Sound Fire keeps getting larger.
Tukwila joined the Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority through a interlocal agreement. The contract started Jan. 1, 2023.
“Agreeing to a contract for service with the City of Tukwila is a win for both agencies,” said Puget Sound Fire spokesperson Pat Pawlak in a Dec. 30 email. “Over the past several years, Puget Sound Fire and the Tukwila Fire Department have partnered extensively, including training together in the South King County Fire Training Consortium, joint entry-level firefighter recruitment and testing, specialty teams and recruit firefighter academy training.
“Our firefighters already work seamlessly together on emergency scenes. Puget Sound Fire sees this partnership as a natural continuation and expansion of the work we already do together. One other benefit of this contract for service is that our other contract agencies, the City of SeaTac and King County Fire District No. 43, will see a reduction in their contract costs as the overhead costs will now be shared by a third contract.”
Puget Sound Fire serves the cities of Kent, Covington, SeaTac and Maple Valley, as well as unincorporated areas of King County Fire District No. 37 and King County Fire District No. 43. SeaTac Fire Department joined Puget Sound Fire in 2014 under a 20-year contract. The Maple Valley Fire & Life Safety commissioners approved a 20-year contract in 2018.
David Cline, Tukwila city administrator, said the move toward joining Puget Sound Fire started several years ago. The city formed a task force in 2021 to look at how best to provide high quality sustainable fire services in the city.
“In May 2022 the committee proposed annexation into the PSRFA (Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority) to provide better, more efficient and sustainable services,” Cline said. “The committee recommended a short-term contract to achieve that goal.”
The Tukwila City Council agreed with this recommendation in June 2022 and approved the contract on Oct. 3, 2022. The Puget Sound Fire RFA Governance Board approved the contract for service on Sept. 21, 2022.
Tukwila will pay $14.7 million in 2023 and an expected 5% increase of that amount in 2024 to Puget Sound Fire for contract services.
Tukwila Fire Department has 64 employees and four fire stations, Pawlak said.
“No employees lost their jobs as a result of this contract for service,” Pawlak said.
Tukwila leaders plan to ask city voters to approve annexation to Puget Sound Fire after the first two contract years. The vote is expected to be on the ballot no later than April 2024, Cline said.
If voters approve annexation, Tukwila’s funding model will be similar to Puget Sound Fire, which is funded by property taxes and a fire benefit charge to help stabilize funding rather than just relying on property taxes. A fire benefit charge on each property owner is based on an industry accepted formula that takes into consideration fire flows, the square footage of structures, the type of structures and various risk factors. By state law, a fire benefit charge cannot exceed 60% of the operating budget.
With the fire benefit charge, the owner of a large house or business pays a higher fee than the owner of a small home or business.
“There is broad agreement from the mayor, council, the fire union and the community that this is a positive step forward to continue to provide high quality fire services in Tukwila,” Cline said. “The contract costs are fairly similar to our current city costs for fire services and this includes enhanced services such as FD Cares, additional fire marshal services and a community educator.”
Voters in Kent, Covington and Fire District 37 approved the formation of the RFA in 2010, which meant splitting the fire department off from the city of Kent. Fire officials proposed the RFA in order to levy a property tax as well a new fire-benefit charge.