Big changes could be coming to Eastside fire services

SAMMAMISH, Wash. -- Fire services in parts of the Eastside could soon face big changes, and not everyone's happy with that idea.

The issue has been brewing for the last two years, but it could come to a head Monday night, when the Sammamish City Manger makes a recommendation that could change the way an entire region gets its fire services.

The city is considering abandoning its current regional fire service district plan and creating its own fire department.

"The city of Samammish is going in the wrong direction," said Brad Spiegel, a former firefighter and Issaquah resident.

Like others in the area, Spiegel worries about what will happen to fire service in his neighborhood and the fire service region if Sammamish creates its own fire department.

'We feel like we are subsidizing the other partners. We pay more in and get less out," said Tim Larson, the city's communications manager.

In addition to Samammish, Eastside Fire & Rescue serves seven additional areas, including Carnation, Issaquah, and North Bend, Preston, Tiger Mountain, May Valley and the Wilderness Rim.

Right now it's a team approach of shared costs and services, but Sammamish leaders say their city pays more and has fewer fire calls.

"Nobody wants to be a cash cow for other partners, and we're trying to make a better arrangement. So far, no luck," Larson said.

Eastside Fire and Rescue officials are hoping for a compromise. Without one, they say they'd have to cut 41 jobs, including 36 firefighters.

"It's an unsettling time for our employees they don't know if they'll have jobs; they can't make long term decisions," said deputy chief Wes Collins.

Collins said the regional plan means better cooperation and response times.

"If we need assistance, every department will send it because they know when they need it, we have nine stations that we can pull engines out of and send help they need," Collins said.

The fire storm has been brewing for more than a year, and Monday night is one of the last chances for residents like Brad Spiegel to weigh in.

"It takes years to build up everything that you need," Spiegal said.

The city manager will base his recommendation on an independent report that was released on Friday. The City Council will make the final decision in November.