PORT TOWNSEND — A $217,300 grant from the Association of Washington Cities that will fund a program to assist individuals to find the appropriate health services and community resources could not have arrived at a better time, according to Chief Bret Black of East Jefferson Fire Rescue.
High call volumes are continuing to increase and challenge the short-staffed department, Black told fire department commissioners on Wednesday.
“CARES is a fire-based program that focuses on the needs of our community that tries to get them the right referral or education or a combination of both as early as possible so that we can interrupt that cycle of, ‘There’s no one else to call, so we’re going to call the fire department,’ ” Black said.
“The goal is of CARES is to connect and reinforce the appropriate services and to try to reduce the impact to our 911 mission. That’s really what it’s all about.
“Many of these individuals have overlapping lifestyle management issues. Some of them are behavioral health issues, some are substance issues and some just need social services. Some need all of them.”
Connecting people with the help they need both improves their quality of life and reduces often unnecessary use of emergency responders, Black said.
Port Ludlow Fire & Rescue year-to-date call volume is up 21 percent and although East Jefferson has settled back down to about 4 percent, it is nonetheless rising.
Port Ludlow will merge into East Jefferson on Jan. 1 as the result of a voter-approved measure in the Nov. 8 general election.
East Jefferson’s is one of a number of fire agencies across the state that have CARES or similar programs whose teams reach out to people identified by first responders as potentially needing assistance, Black said.
East Jefferson has already hired a CARES specialist to manage the program, which is expected to be fully up and running in January.
“Prevention is a wise use of money, and a lot of what CARES is doing is, from my perspective, is going to be prevention,” Commissioner David Seabrook said. “I’m extremely optimistic and enthusiastic about the new program.”
The district’s ongoing struggle to attract firefighters and the pressure that has put on current personnel was discussed. Seabrook said that situation could change if the levy lid lift on the Feb. 14 special election ballot is approved,
“Departments all across the state have been having a hard time getting employees, so we’re not unique in that situation,” Seabrook said.
“We’ve been continuously trying to recruit, and paramedic staffing remains an issue. Hopefully, once we learn the outcome of the vote in February, we’ll be able to address it more effectively if we have better funding sources than we currently do.”
In other action, the board approved:
• Minimum on-duty staffing standards of at least 13 personnel to include one on-duty battalion chief or acting battalion chief, three company officers with at least two commissioned lieutenants, three paramedics and enough firefighters to meet minimum.
• A concurrent resolution with Port Ludlow Fire & Rescue that transferred its property, funds and assets to East Jefferson as part of the merger between the two districts.
Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.