There was a going away ceremony at the Woodinville Fire and Rescue headquarters on May 2 for six Woodinville firefighters that will be transferred to the Kirkland Fire Department on May 16. However, the six firefighters to be honored chose not to attend in protest. The transfers are a result of the Kingsgate annexation into the city of Kirkland and the closure of Fire Station 34.
The transferees feel they were neglected throughout the annexation process and feel that they were used as pawns by Woodinville’s administration. They also object to the closure of the Kingsgate fire station without any plan to provide coverage to the remaining portion of the fire district that Woodinville is still obligated to protect. Sharing this sentiment, other Woodinville firefighters and staff also boycotted the event.
Washington State laws protect firefighters’ jobs in the event of such annexations but in order for those protections to be implemented, cooperation is required from the fire chiefs. The Kirkland fire chief had to declare how many additional firefighters he would need to maintain fire and EMS services in the annexed area. The Woodinville fire chief needed to declare the impact that the lost revenue would have on his personnel.
Three significant events occurred in 2010 that could have jeopardized the careers of the Woodinville firefighters. Early in the year, Woodinville’s new fire chief, David Daniels, met with members of the Kirkland Fire Department and The City of Kirkland administrators to discuss the annexation. He advised them that there would be zero impact on his employees as a result of the annexation in spite of the $1.2M annual loss in revenue. Later in the year, he acknowledged that there would be an impact but he refused to declare it until he had completed negotiating the firefighter’s new contract.*
The leadership of Local 2950 (WF&R) objected to the action and alleged that it was an unfair labor practice. Without declaring the impacts of the annexation, the Kirkland Fire Department could open up the new positions as opposed to filling them with the Woodinville firefighters that might lose their jobs. Lastly, the Woodinville fire district announced that it would close Station 34.
Chief Daniels finally relented in September of 2010 and announced that he would be laying-off ten firefighters as a result of the annexation. The number of employees to be transferred to Kirkland was reduced from ten to six after two members retired from WF&R and two employees found employment with other fire agencies. Unfortunately, the fire district maintains that the Kingsgate fire station will officially close on June 1, 2011.
Jeff Childs, one of the firefighters heading to Kirkland, said, “It was stressful and discouraging to be treated like our jobs and our service to Woodinville didn’t even matter. A lot of the guys at the bottom of the seniority list began looking for work at other fire departments. We were rarely provided with up-to-date information about our employment status and we were apparently treated as pawns. I can’t imagine any fire department treating their people the way mine treated me.”
So after almost 18 months of being neglected and having their careers put at risk, the six Woodinville firefighters heading to Kirkland on May 16 decided that they would rather not participate in their own going-away ceremony.
*Letter from Daniels dated May 7, 2010
Ted Klinkenberg is a firefighter for Woodinville Fire & Rescue and a member of the Local 2950 Executive Board.