Key Peninsula mulls fire levy during tough times

LAKEBAY, Wash. - Election day is three weeks away and firefighters say a levy issue facing voters on the Key Peninsula is not just about dollars and cents - it's about a struggle to keep the whole community safe.

Over a community breakfast at one the Key Peninsula's five fire stations, there's talk about the value of the firefighters.

More than 17,000 people live on the peninsula, in an area of land that's bigger than the city of Tacoma. A levy request on the upcoming ballot asks voters to fund an additional eight firefighters.

"One of our biggest challenges out here is staffing," says Key Peninsula Fire Chief Tom Lique.

For years, volunteers were a big help.

"And so, as the demand has increased over the last few years, the pace of the volunteer system hasn't kept up with the demands for services," says Lique.

There was a big demand for them just last week - when the Lakebay library caught fire. But all four firefighters on staff that day were battling a blaze in another area.

"And so we had to wait 19 minutes for Gig Harbor to send a truck out," says Key Peninsula resident Karen Lovett.

Those minutes felt like a lifetime for library regulars like Lovett.

"Fortunately, it was in an enclosed closet with the doors closed, or we probably would've lost our library," she says.

And just as crews arrived, a third call came in - this time for a brush fire.

"It was a very scary time for our area," says Lovett.

It's a public meeting over pancakes that firefighters hope will educate neighbors about why more of their tax dollars are needed.

"It's kind of a tough situation for the citizens out here - the economic times, people are losing their jobs, and we're going to them asking for more funds," says Lique.

A cost some say is worth it.

"We're very strapped, but we do need our fire department, and we do need to have our EMTs able to take people in. More medical care, too," says Lovett.

The Key Peninsula fire chief says if the levy passes, it will cost the average homeowner $77 more each year.