Cheney Free Press -

By PAUL DELANEY
Staff Reporter 

Making the case for fulltime fire service in Medical Lake

Call numbers push the envelope for a volunteer department, but funding remains the question

 

January 11, 2018

Paul Delaney

Medical Lake Fire Chief Jason Mayfield talks with Assistant Chief Corey Stevens (above) and discusses strategy with several volunteer firefighters at a recent call (below).

One of the hot-button topics during the election campaign for mayor and City Council in Medical Lake has been the desire by some to have fulltime fire department and EMS coverage.

While this will likely continue to be a discussion item in the coming months, particularly on how to fund such an effort, and by how much, looking at the department as it currently sits may help bring some perspective.

For starters, it may come as a surprise, but the Medical Lake fire department is the second oldest in Spokane County, just behind the city of Spokane, and was founded in 1904, said Chief Jason Mayfield.

They are one of the few all-volunteer departments in the county, but their call volume would not indicate that.

Medical Lake ran 684 calls in 2016 and as of early December 2017 the volume was at 630-ish Mayfield said. "The 684 was a record," he said. "We are by far the busiest all-volunteer fire department in the county."

To put that in perspective one needs to study call volume of other area departments. Mayfield provided a glimpse by referencing calls logged in October 2017.

Fire District No. 5 is an all-volunteer agency in the Nine-Mile area. "They are really the smallest district around," Mayfield said. At 100-percent volunteer, they ran 12 calls in October.

Districts 2, 11 and 12 are also all-volunteer and combined, answered 45. "They cover several hundred square miles," Mayfield said. "We ran 77 in four square miles."

Combined, all other Spokane County all-volunteer departments do not run the call volume as does Medical Lake.

Departments with a variety of fulltime staff include Airway Heights, which in October ran 133 calls. "They have a fulltime base staff," Mayfield said. That includes chiefs and a fire marshal.

Cheney was at 153 and they have fulltime staff, Mayfield said. Spokane County First District No. 3 surrounds the Medical Lake/Cheney area and responded to 149 calls. District 10 surrounds Airway Heights and butts up to Spokane city limits, ran 82 with a fulltime chief, lieutenant and firefighters.

By comparison, the city of Spokane ran 3,500 in October.

The average department across the country starts adding fulltime staff at about the 300-call mark - in a year, Mayfield said. "That's a pretty rough average."

Right now Mayfield works on the ambulance while wearing the Chief's badge. He's backed up by Assistant Chief Corey Stevens and a number of officers. All work other jobs, Stevens, for instance, in the construction industry.

Jerry Patterson is the only paramedic on staff, but works fulltime at American Medical Response, AMR.

Andrew Montoya, another lieutenant, is a fulltime student seven-months out of the year while working on his degree in emergency management. He is a wildland firefighter who jumps out of helicopters the rest of the year, Mayfield said.

Those officers manage a contingent of just over 20 volunteers. They, too, all have fulltime jobs and families, Mayfield said.

"What we require of our volunteers is a shift a week of 12 hours," Mayfield said. For those who live in Medical Lake they can pull their shift from home and head to the firehouse when a call comes in.

"For those who don't live in the city they have to be in the station," Mayfield said. He has some volunteers that live as far away as Liberty Lake.

There are no overnight quarters but the training room has a few amenities - TV, couches, desks - to try to make them comfortable. They use the kitchen in the multipurpose room at City Hall.

To have sleeping quarters, the building needs fire sprinklers. "In order to have a resident program we either need a different building or a substantial remodel," Mayfield said.

Medical Lake will ask voters sometime soon to renew the existing EMS levy and maybe consider a vote on additional fire funding.

Paul Delaney can be reached at pdelaney@cheneypreepress.com.

 

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