Voters in Grays Harbor Fire District 5 will decide on Nov. 5 whether to increase their property taxes for two new ambulances.
With ballots expected to be in the mail by the end of the week, the measure can count on at least two votes — Fire District Commissioner Gerald Bailey and his challenger Derek Hamblin have both said they’re voting for the measure.
Fire Chief Dan Prater says that the district’s calls have gone from 1,400 a year to almost 1,800 calls, averaging about five calls per day. And, yet, the district’s ambulances are falling apart. The same day as an election forum in Elma last week, the head gasket on one of the ambulances blew. This is on top of mechanical problems on one of the other ambulances.
Frankly, Prater says, the fleet is too old with too many miles.
Firefighter Jeff Redmond of Elma says he’s been on an ambulance three times in the past year when it has simply fallen apart. The fire district has been lucky that a patient in critical condition hasn’t been stuck in the ambulance when it’s broken down on the side of the road. The Fire District’s four ambulances include a 2002 with 275,000 miles, a 2002 with 240,000 miles, a 2003 box on a 2005 chassis with 157,000 miles and a 2002 with 111,555 miles.
The ambulance bond seeks $360,000 and would last for five years and should cost property tax payers approximately 13 cents or less per thousand of assessed value during that time frame. After that, Prater notes, the bond goes away. The bond would just be for the ambulance equipment, no personnel costs.
Prater says the Fire District spends about $35,000 a year on repair costs. He says the district would likely stick that money away and start a fund to finance new ambulances in the future, “but we need this kick start from the voters because there’s no money for it.”
Meantime, Hamblin, an EMT for District 5, says if he were elected, he’d like to see a couple more highly trained medics to place on ambulances. He says the fire district’s association may be willing to “flip the bill” to hire grant writers, as well, to look into new facilities and equipment. Both Bailey and Hamblin say they would support a regional fire authority or some kind of ambulance cooperative.
“We need to bring everyone together on one big team,” Hamblin said.
“I believe this community needs to get together,” Bailey said. “We’re hung up on names and I think we need to have more common sense. The Elma mayor and I have sat down and talked many times and have talked about bringing things together.”
During an election forum last week, Mayor Dave Osgood asked Bailey if there was a contingency plan if the bond fails, “We’ll hopefully fix the ambulance that broke down today. Personally, I think we need to get together.”