Ferries pay Vashon Island Fire & Rescue for fire protection

Washington State Ferries (WSF) paid Vashon Island Fire & Rescue $32,000 on July 29 to protect its two ferry terminals on Vashon from fires.

The money covers the two terminals, surrounding structures and terminal trestles for a five-year span, retroactive to the beginning of 2006.

It is common for WSF to pay local fire departments for coverage of its facilities, but the ferry system had not paid since 2005 because officials were hoping to work out a deal where ambulances could ride ferries for free; in exchange, the local fire department would offer fire protection to ferry terminals free of charge, said Fire Chief Hank Lipe.

The $32,000 agreement is valid through the end of 2010, and the amount is based on a per-square-foot price for the structures and facilities — $8,100 for the Tahlequah dock and $23,600 for the north-end dock.

But the roughly $6,000 WSF is paying for each year of protection pales in comparison to the $20,000 the Vashon fire department pays for its ambulances to ride the ferries in one year.

So it’s no surprise that Lipe is enthusiastic about a proposal currently put forth by the state Transportation Commission that would allow ambulances to someday ride ferries free.

The proposal, which recommends that WSF be allowed the freedom to negotiate terms of fire protection with local fire departments, is part of a larger fare structure proposal put forth by the transportation commission earlier this summer.

The cost Vashon Island Fire & Rescue incurs to transport patients to off-Island medical facilities has long been a bone of contention in the community, and many are eager to see the plan go into effect.

Lipe said he would be “ecstatic” if Island ambulances didn't have to pay for ferry trips.

“It’ll be huge for the Island,” he said. “We spend a lot of money on ferries.”

But even if the proposal is approved after legislative review, Vashon’s ambulances will likely not ride ferries free until July 2010, based on the timeline put forth for the proposal’s approval.

Lipe said he credits ferry chief David Moseley with the progress being made between the ferry system and local fire departments.

“He’s the one who took the initiative,” Lipe said. “This has been going on for years, and I feel good that a resolution is pending.”

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