PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles Fire Department needs to hire more firefighters or the city risks a downgrade in its fire insurance rating, Chief Ken Dubuc told the Port Angeles Business Association on Tuesday.
A downgrade could mean up to 90 percent of residents and businesses in Port Angeles would see anywhere from a 5 percent to a 10 percent increase in insurance costs, Dubuc has said.
“We need help, quite frankly,” he told a couple dozen people at PABA’s weekly meeting. “We’ve kicked the can down the road for a long time, and we can’t afford to do that anymore.”
Because a Washington Surveying and Rating Bureau inspection in late 2015 determined the city’s fire insurance rating should be downgraded from 4 to 5 out of 10, the Port Angeles Fire Department has been working to ensure that doesn’t happen, the fire chief said.
To keep its current rating of 4 — a good rating, according to Dubuc, since only a handful of departments across the state are rated higher — the department has committed to having five firefighters working at all times.
Last year, the department averaged 4.5 firefighters each day.
For now, the department is meeting the requirement through mandatory overtime.
“We can do that for the short term but not for the long term,” Dubuc said. “We’re going to need to hire some people.”
The Port Angeles City Council approved the overtime to have five personnel staffed at the fire department at all times through July.
Council members also agreed to hold a Feb. 28 work session — a month earlier than planned — to discuss options for funding at least two full-time positions that Dubuc said are needed to reduce individual firefighters’ call-volume workloads but which would only be employing a bandage approach to the issue.
Dubuc’s intention is to hire two more firefighters by July, he has said, but four or more are actually needed, which would cost about $300,000.
The department hasn’t hired additional firefighters for 26 years but has seen a 240 percent increase in call volume, he said.
Last year, it responded to an average of about 13 calls per day.
“Out of any portion of the day, you can roll the dice and we’re already out on a call,” Dubuc said.
To hire the new firefighters, the department will look at increasing the Medic 1 portion on residents’ utility bills.
If the city’s rating is downgraded, those additional insurance fees residents would pay would go to insurance companies and not provide any additional services for the city, Dubuc said.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at email@example.com.