Fire Chief: Rescue team cuts, longer response times if levy fails

AUBURN, Wash. - Fire District 44 in unincorporated South King County is in danger of losing critical funding, making an upcoming vote what could be for some a lifesaving decision.

Every year King County District 44 provides service on more than 200 calls for fires, medical care and water rescues. They serve 70 miles of unincorporated areas in Auburn, Kent, Covington, and Enumclaw.

"We're running the fire department today on about the same funds we were getting 12 years ago," said Chief Greg Smith of King County Fire District 44.

Because of reduced property values, the district has lost $1.8 million in the last four years.

If the levy doesn't pass, fire and emergency services will change in 2014.

"What we could see is significantly increased response times," Chief Smith said.

An increase in response time during an emergency can mean the difference between life and death for those in danger.

"If we can't get there between 6-7 minutes, and that's the longest time we like to have to get there, then the consequences are fairly grave," he said.

Property owners currently pay $1.50 on every $1000 of assessed property value. To prevent cuts to service, the district is asking owners to pay $1.81 on that $1000, meaning the average homeowner would pay $326 per year.

The levy needs super majority - or 60% of voters willing to pay more - to pass. If the levy fails, services from the district's Swiftwater Rescue Team on the Green River will no longer be available.

The vote for King County Fire District 44 Proposition 1 will be November 5, 2013.