In Our Opinion: Central Whidbey fire levy lid lift is an investment in safety

Central Whidbey voters should continue their strong support of their fire district.

The days are gone when a rural fire district can depend wholly on volunteers to pull their boots on in the middle of the night and respond to a fire, car crash or heart attack. Fire departments across the nation are struggling to recruit new firefighters; many have blamed stricter training requirements, the economy, inflexible jobs and changing family dynamics for the dearth of volunteers.

As a result, rural departments across the nation are moving toward staffing a higher proportion of full-time paid firefighters and EMTs.

Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue is no different. A proposed levy lid lift on the November ballot would address staffing shortages by hiring four full-time employees.

Running a fire department doesn’t come cheap. The commissioners are asking for a lift of 32 cents per $1,000 assessed property value, which would bring the levy rate from its current 86 cents to $1.18 per $1,000. The owner of a $500,000 house will pay an additional $160 annually if the levy passes.

In combination with the fire district’s ongoing bond rate of 15 cents per $1,000, this levy lid lift would bring the total tax rate for the district to $1.33 per $1,000.

It’s worth the expense for Central Whidbey residents. Like other departments on the island, Central Whidbey is seeing a persistent increase in the number of calls for service, especially in medical calls. After all, Central Whidbey has an older population who are more likely to need medical assistance.

The levy lid lift will allow the department to respond to emergency calls quicker and more effectively. The extra staffing means the department will be able to reliably meet state staffing requirements for going inside a burning building to search for people.

The National Institute of Health reports that response times have a significant impact on outcomes when it comes to medical emergencies. For example, the odds of death if the response time was more than eight minutes is 2.4 times higher compared to the response time of less than that time.

In other words, seconds can mean the difference between tragedy and a happy ending in an emergency. Tipping the scales in the right direction is priceless.