Lt. Gary Way backs up firefighter/paramedic Paul Pavolka on the nozzle during a car fire drill.
Photo credit: Anne Nesbit, KPFD
The Key Peninsula Fire Department received new fire protection class ratings May 1, 2016, resulting in insurance cost savings for most KP homeowners, no changes for others and substantial increases for residents of Longbranch and Herron Island.
The Washington Survey and Rating Bureau examines the efficiency of fire districts statewide every four years for insurance and other purposes. For the first time in 25 years, the WSRB approved a fire protection class rating increase for KPFD from Class 6 to Class 5, according to Fire Chief Guy Allen.
“You get the class 5 rating for your home if you live within 5 miles of a staffed fire station and have a hydrant within 1,000 feet of your home,” Allen said. “If you don’t have the hydrant, you automatically get penalized one grade and go to a 6.”
The fire stations in Longbranch and on Herron Island are considered unstaffed because fewer than six career or volunteer firefighters can respond from them.
“I’ve talked to folks over the last few months wanting to know why their insurance premiums went up,” Allen said. “We could not demonstrate that we had a response capability out of the Longbranch or Herron Island stations. Longbranch is classified now as a fire protection class 9 and Herron Island is a 9A, and that is about as close as you can get to having zero protection.”
Longbranch resident Richard Scharf lives in the house he built for his mother 50 years ago. He received a large increase in his annual insurance bill in January.
“Basically, it doubled almost,” going from $540 to $940, he said. He lives 2 miles south of the Longbranch station.
“If they had enough volunteers out here, they could probably make it work,” Scharf said. “All these retired people out here, it’s going to make it tough on them.”
There are four of the six needed department members who live close enough to the Longbranch station, including one new volunteer.
“On Herron, there’s nobody,” Allen said. “We have tried for two years to recruit folks on Herron Island and I thought I had eight or nine that were going to step forward this last time, but we still didn’t get a very good response.”
Allen planned to train those volunteers as tender operators, not full-fledged firefighters who would go into burning buildings. “They’d get all the training and safety gear they need to fight fires from windows and doors and prevent it from spreading to neighboring property, and buy us time until we get other crews out there to do the interior,” he said.
“What has happened since that time is we had a house fire on Herron Island that burned to the ground, and now there’s more interest,” he said.
There were no injuries during the Nov. 10 fire but the single-family home was destroyed.
“There was a problem with the dispatching,” Allen said. “The fire dispatching system was upgraded Nov. 1 and the paging system wasn’t working properly. Ordinarily that would’ve been caught almost immediately, but it was just one of those odd things that had everything lined up perfectly to fail.”
The resulting delay added about 25 minutes to getting the ferry over to the mainland to meet the responding fire crew. “It’s already a 20-, 25-minute response just to get to Herron Island. So we were pushing a 45- or 50-minute response time, which was just awful,” Allen said.
Allen intends to continue encouraging KP residents to volunteer.
“The alternative to that is to hire more folks to staff those buildings and people cost us the most,” he said. “Eighty-three percent of our budget is people, and we just don’t have the tax base to support getting paid firefighters in every building. That’s just not going to happen.”
Applications for volunteer enrollment are accepted from Sept. 1 to Oct. 31. For more information, call 884-2222.