Jan. 20—Legislation sponsored by Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, and Rep. Dan Griffey, R-Allyn, would provide a new grant funding source for rural fire departments whose buildings and equipment are inadequate to meet the fire safety needs of their communities.
House Bill 1929 would establish a competitive grant program under the state Department of Commerce to award funding of up to $2 million to local governments in rural counties for capital projects that would improve fire protection services.
"As our local communities grow in population, it also puts more of a strain on local services, including our fire departments. Fire departments across the state are still working out of very old, outdated stations. Other fire stations are feeling the pressure from economic development and growth. It is often difficult for rural communities to raise the necessary funds to improve fire infrastructure and keep pace with growth," said Abbarno, who serves as ranking Republican on the House Capital Budget Committee. "This legislation would improve fire safety and absorb some of the fire safety costs to relieve the economic burden on working families and small businesses."
Abbarno said he recently toured Lewis County Fire District 5's facilities in Napavine after the department tried to pass a 66-cent levy increase in August 2021. The levy, which would have funded fire protection operations, staffing, equipment, maintenance and two full-time positions, failed by two votes.
"They have tried to get community support with a bond for upgrades, but the local economy is such that many residents cannot afford an increase in their property taxes to pay for those upgrades. In communities like this, fire insurance rates often go up because the risk is higher," said Abbarno. "Meanwhile, the state is sitting on a record budget surplus. It can well afford to help those at-risk fire districts. This grant program would be a real solution to this fire safety problem in rural districts across the state."
"It is essential right now to realize there are smaller rural fire departments throughout the state that provide essential services to those who live in rural areas," said Griffey, who serves as a professional firefighter for Central Mason Fire-EMS. "Their needs continue to outpace their ability to fund them. This legislation would make sure smaller departments are able to provide the necessary services to the communities and individuals they serve."
The legislation is not just to help those who live in rural areas, said Griffey.
"It also better serves the interest of the entire state of Washington to see that these small fire districts are kept up to date and have the necessary resources and equipment they need to survive," he said.
A public hearing on HB 1929 is being scheduled for Jan. 25 in the House Capital Budget Committee. Further details of the hearing are pending.
The 60-day legislative session began Jan. 10 and will continue through March 10.