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Fire District 7 and Lake Stevens Fire planning merger

LAKE STEVENS — On Jan. 1, 2020 Lake Stevens Fire and Fire District 7 may merge to form a single, 12-station unit serving about 162,000 residents.
The new district would be better able to deploy to disasters, wildfires and any large-scale event, district leaders say, and do so more cost effectively.
The final decision will likely be up to voters in the August primary, but planning is well underway in both districts.
Lake Stevens Fire Chief Kevin O’Brien enthusiastically described the departments’ game plan at an open house Feb. 26.
“In Snohomish County, you see tremendous growth, long-term growth” and “we’re very challenged with the growth in this community,” he said.
Snohomish’s Fire District 4, located between the two merging agencies, declined to participate in a merger. It said it sees “no savings to our citizens and no improvement to the service we provide” that would come from a merger, according to a May 2018 letter from the District 4 Board of Commissioners.
In 2018, the two potentially merging districts handled a combined 17,169 calls. Fire District 7 serves the Monroe, Maltby, Clearview and Mill Creek areas.
By joining forces, O’Brien said, the departments would also be more efficient administratively, benefit from pooling their unique resources and make the best use of existing funds without having to consider asking for additional tax revenue.
The merged district would maintain funding levels with preexisting levies of $2 per $1,000 in assessed property value, and continue its status quo strategy of requesting a levy lid lift every other year.
Lake Stevens’ 52 full time union firefighters and 20 part time firefighters would join the 124 full time and 14 part time first responders in District 7. They would serve an area 140 square miles.
O’Brien would be the new district chief.
District 7 chief Gary Meek plans to retire after the transition is complete. He’s been with District 7 since 1980.
The would-be combined district also doesn’t plan to replace two retiring top-level fire administrators.
There would be no layoffs as a result of the merger, O’Brien said in a follow-up interview.
Little would change in the first year of the new district, while firefighters swap shifts to acclimate to new neighborhoods and facilities.
The two districts already share training, fire marshals and assist each other with dozens of mutual aid calls annually.
Just last month, a Lake Stevens firefighter who was trained in a dive rescue program initiated by Fire District 7, helped in the rescue of an Everett woman whose car was submerged along Homeacres Road. O’Brien shared this as an example of the two districts’ partner-ship.
Also, “both districts are very strong, operationally and financially,” O’Brien said. Lake Stevens is debt-free while District 7’s debt is largely tied to its new fire station bond.
In the event of a merger, Lake Stevens firefighters union would also merge with the District 7 union. “Both unions have been engaged in the process and have indicated their strong support of the potential merger,” Lake Stevens Fire spokeswoman Laana Larson said in an email.
The name of the new district is yet to be decided: O’Brien said the agency would choose one with the community’s help.
The merger would be the second in recent history for Fire District 7, which in 2016 merged with Monroe Fire.



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