EMS services reduced in what some say was ‘bait and switch'

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EVERETT, Wash. —

Some people are blasting the sixth-largest city in the state for what they say is a bait and switch.

 

KIRO 7 Eyewitness News reporter David Ham investigated how this is impacting services, and why the city is defending its action.

 

Samantha Kempf may live a few houses down from a fire station, but firefighters say the response to her next 911 call may be delayed.

 

“That’s kind of scary.  The possibilities of danger could be greater,” said Kempf.

 

Staffing at fire stations across Everett has been cut over the years.

 

“It affects our response-to times.  In our kind of business, seconds count.  Time counts, and basically, when we take rigs out of service, it takes us longer to get to them,” said Everett Firefighters Union President Paul Gagnon.

 

In 2000, citizens voted to raise their taxes, and the city collected more than $4 million the next year.

 

In 2010, they voted to raise taxes again, raking in more than $6 million the next year, enough to buy eight fire trucks at $750,000 each.

 

The reason citizens voted for the tax was to maintain and improve emergency services.

 

John Jones voted for both levies.

 

"They're always asking for money for that one in particular, and then if you don’t vote for it, you feel like you're not going to get fire protections or something,” said Jones.

 

Since then, services have not improved and regular staffing on engines was actually cut.

 

"Over the last couple of years, we've made adjustments in how we staff our rigs,” said Gagnon.

 

Gagnon says since the taxes were raised, services were reduced in a strategy called a brownout.

 

“A brownout wouldn’t shut down a station completely, but would take certain pieces of equipment out of service temporarily, such as an engine or an aid car staffed with emergency medical technicians,” said Gagnon.

 

The City of Everett doesn't deny this is happening.

 

"From the city's standpoint, we have to take a look at the bottom line,” said Kate Reardon with the City of Everett.

 

On top of the levy, the city also started charging $488 for rides to the hospital that used to be free.

 

Firefighters say they feel duped.

 

“We went out and knocked on the doors and told the citizens if they passed it that they will basically maintain their level of service,” said Gagnon.

 

KIRO 7 asked the city how exactly all of these tax dollars are being spent.

 

“Is any of that money being used for anything other than emergency medical services? And that's the question we're going to get back to you on,” said Reardon.

 

They did, and showed KIRO 7 that the money is being spent on EMS -- but didn't explain why rigs keep getting taken out of service.

 

So what changed?

 

The city moved 10 EMT salaries from the general budget to the already-strapped EMS budget.

 

Despite all of the cuts, the city says citizens still get a top-quality response -- even though they haven't compiled annual data for response times in years.

 

What frustrates firefighters the most is that this is all legal.

 

"There's a bait and switch that was done on the city -- on the citizens of Everett. Basically, they were asked to increase their taxes to maintain and improve their service, and basically what they got was a decrease in service."

 

On days when some engines are out of service, the city of Everett says it can request help from surrounding fire departments in an agreement called mutual aid.

 

That help would be paid for by taxpayers in other cities.