Two fire chiefs in Snohomish County asking for voter approval to combine forces

LAKE STEVENS, Wash. - The growth of Snohomish County has been a topic of conversation.

You see new developments popping up and more congestion.

Those growing pains are also straining the resources of first responders. Now two major fire departments coming up with a merger idea that firefighters say will help them and the citizens they serve.

Lake Stevens Fire Department wants to merge with Snohomish County Fire District 7 that serves areas of Monroe, Mill Creek, Clearview and Maltby.

Melissa Zing just moved her family to Lake Stevens.

“I moved to Lake Stevens primarily for the school district,” Zing said.

And as a new voter in the area, she is taking notice of a sign posted in parts of Snohomish County.

The sign is asking people to say yes to the proposed merger, but Zing is curious about some things. She wants to know what the benefits would be exactly and whether it would affect property taxes.

Lake Stevens Fire Chief Kevin O’Brien says the partnership will help with response times not just in Lake Stevens but the other communities.

“EMS calls comprise of over 75% of our alarms,” Lake Stevens Fire Chief Kevin O’Brien said.

O'Brien says the idea will mean a larger response force and standardized training and operations.

He also says they would be able to weather economic downturns and plan better for the future.

As for the cost to citizens, O’Brien says since they are just combining forces and not asking for more money property taxes would not be impacted.

“People have said what is going to happen with my local fire department part of our plan is that we make sure that we assure hometown service,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien says no fire station will be closed down.

Instead, the merger is a way to mitigate the tremendous growth they are seeing in Snohomish County.

“If we have a localized disaster we would have a larger team to draw upon,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien says the robust force would help with incidents like wildland fires and special events like 4th of July.

Right now Lake Stevens has 70 firefighters, the merger would increase staffing to 234 responders. They say 11 fire stations would serve about 162,000 residents. The budget would be a combined $57 million.

Many of those firefighters are now under Snohomish County District 7 Fire Chief Gary Meek.

“I approached Chief O’Brien about merging the two departments approximately four years ago,” Meek said.

Four years in the making but they say they need the public’s support now to make it possible.

“It’s definitely something I want to research further, I have a lot of respect for what they do so I want to make sure they can continue to do it the safest way possible,” Zing said.