Tukwila Mayor Allan Ekberg has ordered city fire department staffing to be “adjusted” because of an expected $6.1 million loss of city income because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I do not advocate closing down any station,” the mayor said on Tuesday (April 7, 2020). “Due to the financial impact to the city as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, fire department staffing needs to be adjusted, when necessary.”

New reality
Ekberg said the $6.1 million shortfall “could grow depending on the duration of the pandemic.”

The mayor said “recognizing this new reality” on March 25, he instituted a five part strategy “to align the budget to these reduced revenues.”

The “new realities” include a hiring freeze, reducing overtime unless authorized by the mayor, cancelling all travel, furloughing part-time temporary staff and eliminating transfers to capital project funds.

Ekberg said the proposed reductions “are estimated to save” $4 million.

He said there “will be further reductions necessary to achieve the full $6.1 million savings needed through May.” More “significant financial impacts are expected by the end of the year,” said the mayor.

Fire Department overtime
The mayor said the Tukwila Fire Department present staffing model assumes staffing three fire engines and one ladder truck across the four stations with 13 people.

“It is recognized that more than 80 percent of calls to the Fire Department are for aid-related calls,” Ekberg said. “When firefighters are on vacation, using Kelly days (24 hours off every third work period), or calling in sick, the fire department uses overtime money to pay for so there are 13 firefighters on duty. As the Council knows, this overtime use has caused nearly $500,000 a year in overtime costs.”

Reduced Call Volume
Because of the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” proclamation from Gov. Jay Inslee, Mayor Ekberg said the fire department “has seen a decrease in overall call volume, with an additional emphasis for more aid calls than fire calls.”

He said “placing an aid car in service, instead of expensing overtime, is a better resource match for this change in service level. For example, Ekberg said March call volume was down 10 percent and April is expected to be down much greater as the residents and businesses fully comply with the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” directive which is now extended through May 4th.”

100,000 fewer visitors
Ekberg said Tukwila’s “service volume is reduced as a result of more than 100,000 people no longer visiting our city for work, hotel accommodations, shopping, recreation, entertainment, and the like.

For several years, Ekberg said the city has “analyzed a more appropriate service standard of staffing one aid car instead of an engine, to better respond to the aid call volume.”

A recent analysis shows that Fire Station 52 would be the most appropriate station to change this service level.

“This station has the least amount of calls, less than three per day. If an aid car was in service, it would move less than one call per day to another station, while still maintaining our overall city-adopted time response level,” Ekberg said. “This data results from the recent Council request to bring in an outside review of the fire department.

“If this policy had been in place from January 2020 through March, on average, an aid car would have been in service nine days per month,” the mayor said. “All shifts were staffed at a three-person engine response during this time period.”

Fire station staffing
The mayor said to reduce overtime costs, Fire Station 52 will continue to be staffed at a three-person engine staffing level “when staffing allows.”

However, if staffing levels need to be adjusted the mayor has to “acknowledge the following, to be implemented by the Fire Chief.”

Minimum staffing levels are, if necessary, “to adjust down to as low as 10 personnel on duty for a 24-hour work period, effective April 1, 2020 to support fire’s staffing of two back-to-back 24-hour work periods per contract.”

“All fire stations fully staffed with minimum of three firefighters on shift with one battalion chief on duty.

Fire station 52 to staff will be cut to two personnel, and an Aid Unit shall be in service in place of an engine.

Ekberg said he was to be notified if staffing drops further, so he can consider authorization for overtime.

“As mayor, I do not advocate closing down any station. Due to the financial impact to the City as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fire Department staffing needs to be adjusted, when necessary.”