Voters reject fire department merger

An overwhelming majority says no to a union between
the Northshore and Woodinville Fire Departments. Courtesy photo

By Meghan McLaughlin

Prop 1, a ballot measure to merge the Northshore Fire Department and Woodinville Fire & Rescue, was rejected by almost 80% of Kenmore and Lake Forest Park voters in a special election on Tuesday, April 27. The election results will be certified on Friday, May 7.

“I think it’s very telling,” said Jeremiah Ingersoll, a lieutenant with the Northshore Fire Department and president of the Northshore Firefighters Local 2459 union. “I think the Fire Department Administration and the commissioners are doing things that are in exact conflict with what the citizens and other city leaders want from their fire department.”

Kenmore City Council and Lake Forest Park City Council both passed resolutions that opposed the merger before the ballot deadline. Lake Forest Park City Council members listed lack of information, poor timing and insufficient financial planning as reasons for their votes to oppose the merger. Kenmore City Council members echoed its neighboring city council’s sentiments against the merger due to lack of information transparency. 

“I’m a little heartbroken with where things have landed with this merger,” said Kenmore City Council Deputy Mayor Nigel Herbig during a city council meeting. “Unfortunately, with our own firefighters opposed and our own commission moving to suspend their support, I sadly have to support a resolution in opposition to this ballot measure.”

According to information from No on Prop 1, the campaign by Northshore Firefighters Local 2459, the measure offers no increase to emergency services, proposes a budget and structure that is unsustainable, reduces the wages of Northshore firefighters and merges two jurisdictions that do not share borders.

Northshore Fire Department Deputy Fire Chief Doug McDonald sees it differently. 

“We believe that it was both an efficiency and increased level of service and a financial benefit to the citizens of Northshore, which is Lake Forest Park and Kenmore, and for Woodinville Fire & Rescue,” McDonald said.

Ingersoll explained that while the union was initially on board with the merger and helped develop it, Northshore Firefighters Local 2459 opposed Prop 1 after multiple attempts to negotiate contracts. He also took issue with the information distributed.

“We didn’t just oppose this for the reasons of them being unwilling to work with labor groups and contracts and all that,” Ingersoll said. “There were some glaring issues of the department putting out misleading or untrue information.”

Ingersoll said citizens received inaccurate information on what their tax rates would be with the merger, and the increased level of service claim was “absolutely not true.”

Ingersoll’s investigation into Woodinville’s fire department’s contract found that Northshore Firefighters Local 2459 union members could see a reduction in pay of upwards of 12% because Northshore firefighters’ wages are higher than those of Woodinville Fire & Rescue.

Despite the significant opposition Prop 1 faced, McDonald emphasized the priorities of the agencies. 

“At no point ever did we lose our commitment to the people that we serve,” McDonald said. “Everyone in both agencies, both Northshore and Woodinville fire commissioners, the fire chief, firefighters—we’re all united. We’re all united in providing the highest level of service to the public that we possibly can. And we’ll continue to do that.”

Moving forward, both parties appear interested in a future merger between fire departments.

“We’re still in favor of a merger and consolidation of fire departments when it’s done appropriately,” Ingersoll said. “We have to have all interested parties involved. We have to go back to the drawing table and find a way to make that successful.” 

But that might not happen right away.

“Honestly, it’s going to be probably a little while before we see another merger opportunity to come before us,” McDonald said. “That’s unfortunate, but we understand it, and we will abide by the voters’ decision.”

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