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Bremerton fire chief says EMS levy is critical

Bremerton Fire Chief Al Duke. - Kevan Moore/staff photo
Bremerton Fire Chief Al Duke.
— image credit: Kevan Moore/staff photo

The Bremerton City Council voted this week to place a six-year emergency medical services (EMS) levy on the Aug. 5 ballot.

At 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, the levy is not a new tax, but a replacement or continuation of the current levy which collects about $1.2 million annually.

“We’re not going to be getting any more money and if we do, it’s just a slight amount of money more than we get right now,” said Bremerton Fire Chief Al Duke. “This is just a continuation. There’s no increase to it. In talking to the county assessor, he thinks there might be a one percent increase in the assessed valuation. So, there might be a slight increase in what you pay.”

Duke said that the EMS levy is critical.

“Most people don’t even known that your medical, or EMS services, are funded through the levy until a levy comes up,” Duke said. “I think it’s an important levy. It’s one of the most important services that the city provides. Our fire service provides that medical coverage in an emergency.”

In 2013, the city’s EMS levy brought in $1,195,563 and ambulance fees brought in $525,716 for a total of $1,721,279. Expenses, though, were $2,231,705. The $510,426 difference was made up by using general fund dollars. If the levy were to fail in August, things would be dire.

“The council would have to make some huge decisions because this would be a $2 million shortfall for the general fund to make up,” Duke said. “So, this would be in their hands for what to do if this fails.”

Duke, though, doesn’t think failure is likely. After the department’s first levy failed in 1979, six other elections spaced out every six years have all seen levies pass fairly easily.

“If you look at the history, it’s usually in the 70 and 80 percent range (of passing),” Duke said. “I think people realize how valuable the program is. There’s always a percentage of people that don’t vote for it, but we haven’t heard about any opposition. But, we’re just starting out this year, too.”

Most of the money from the levy goes to personnel. The Bremerton Fire Department has 56 employees. With the exception of Duke, a former paramedic who gave up his certification in 1992, and a secretary, there are 15 paramedics and the rest are EMTs.

Duke notes that crews are dealing with an aging population, a lot of folks are reluctant to call for help as soon as they should and many citizens are becoming more obese.

“What we are seeing is people are waiting a lot longer to call, so they’re a lot sicker than they would have been if they had called early,” Duke said. “We’ve actually seen some people wait too long. Our population is also getting older which means people are sicker when we arrive and they have to be carried out of there. They are not always on the first floor, sometimes they are on a second floor or in a basement.”

Duke notes that the fire department is integrated, meaning fire engine units and ambulances work together on medical calls.

“If you were to just have ambulance service, you would have just two people responding. Right now, you have four people, two on an ambulance and two on an engine. If you have a cardiac arrest, somebody has to do compressions and somebody has to breathe for you. Once those two are gone, there’s nobody left to drive. Plus there needs to be somebody else doing procedures. We actually send more than that on a cardiac arrest.”

Duke said he is happy to meet with voters to discuss the EMS levy.

“They can call me directly,” he said. “If they want me to come talk to them, I’ll come talk to them. I’ll come talk to anyone or any group.”

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