Dear Citizens,

This June will mark three years since I came to East Pierce Fire and Rescue. Our 152-square-mile service area includes the communities of Milton, Edgewood, Sumner, Lake Tapps, Bonney Lake, Prairie Ridge, South Prairie, Tehaleh and unincorporated areas reaching to the northern border of Mt. Rainier National Park.

We are experiencing very rapid growth in all of our cities, which is exposing our understaffed companies and increasing our reliance on mutual aid.

When I arrived in June of 2015, my goals were to: 1) Rebuild and strengthen relationships; 2) Stabilize our budget; and 3) Set the direction of our department to address community needs.

We have a strong and healthy Labor-Management relationship now that is based on trust and mutual respect. We have stronger working relationships with our partner cities and are able to look to the future. Our budget is stable, with sound funding for the next three years, thanks to the citizens approval of lifting our fire and EMS levies last year. And we are working to provide the necessary resources to provide the service you deserve.

To improve our staffing levels, the district received a SAFER (Staffing Adequate Fire Emergency Response) Grant from FEMA. This has allowed us to add nine firefighters so that we can increase staffing levels. Three of our five engines will increase to a minimum staffing of 3 firefighters on each engine. The grant provides over $600,000 in 2018 and 2019. The next step will be to squeeze the budget in an attempt to bring the remaining two engines up to three firefighters per shift as well. A difficult task as our collection rate is much lower than other career fire districts in Pierce County.

To increase our ability to deal with the rapidly rising call volume, we will hire an additional nine firefighters in August, which will provide the staffing for a new medic unit to be placed in service by the first quarter of 2020. These firefighters are being funded with the revenues generated from the two levies that were lifted by the voters. We sorely need this unit as emergency medical response not only is the majority of our business, but the fastest growing segment as well.

The strides we are making to increase staffing levels will make a positive impact. One new position that we are in the process of implementing is that of the Community Paramedic. This person will work with high volume system users and work to get them the social services they need in an effort to reduce their reliance on 9-1-1. In addition to working with those patients, the Community Paramedic will work with senior housing facilities and discuss methods to reduce the use of 9-1-1 in their facilities as well. In 2016, senior housing facilities accounted for 9% of the annual call volume.

We have other issues to address as well. We have an aging fleet of emergency vehicles that will soon require replacement to meet standards. In addition, several fire stations need upgrades, replaced or relocated. We are currently updating our Capital Facilities Plan and will present it to the public later. This plan will explain our facility needs, provide justification and recommended actions. The Plan will be reviewed and have input from our newly formed Citizens Advisory Committee. These sixteen people who live throughout our service area will give us a citizen’s view and perspective in an effort to set our course for addressing facility and vehicle needs.

We are definitely improving, but as they say, there is always more to do. We continue to provide a great service to our communities on a limited budget. We work hard to ensure that your money is well spent and that we develop a sound plan for the future.

Thank you for helping us by approving the levy lid lifts last August. We are putting those funds to work to increase staffing and implement new programs to address the growth in call volume. These staffing increases will not bring us up to the National Standard, but they are a huge improvement and provide a tangible step toward improving public and firefighter safety.

If you would like me to address your club, homeowners association, or any other group, please email me at to schedule a date and time to meet and discuss the needs of your community and fire department.

Thank you,

Fire Chief Bud Backer

Print this page

Twitter Facebook