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Local firefighters say they are struggling to provide lifesaving services

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YAKIMA -- Local firefighters say they're struggling to respond to emergencies in the lower valley due to decades-old stations and trucks that are severely overdue for an upgrade.

Now, they're turning to voters and taxpayers for help.

Yakima County Fire District 5 (FD5) serves all of the lower valley from White Swan to Grandview.

They have 15 operating fire stations and geographically, they are the largest fire district in the state.

Chief Ken Shipman says they incorporated in 1947 and since then they haven't ever asked for a tax increase. "We've lived within our means for a long time but it's time to make some upgrades."

They're looking to get a bond out to voters by November of this year as their current setup makes it hard for them to do what they need to do to save people's lives.

"That bond will cover renovations to some of our key fire stations and also provide some new apparatus for replacing some of that old apparatus that are desperately in need of replacement," Chief Shipman said.

This would go towards renovations for stations in Harrah (Station 3), Parker (Station 5), and Zillah (Station 10) and expanding the emergency dispatch center (Station 13).

Many of FD5's stations were built in the 50s and 60s and none of them have any sleeping areas for firefighters.

That means, depending on where they live, response times could be delayed, especially in the middle of the night.

"Your pager goes off, you have to wake up, you have to get dressed, you have to go out to your vehicle, drive to the fire station, put your turn outs on, your protective gear, get in the fire truck and respond. So easily five minutes, probably closer to 10," Chief Shipman said.

In addition, some of their fire trucks have reached the end of their usable life, which is something the bond would also help towards.

"Our oldest fire apparatus is a 1978," Chief Shipman said.

They're also looking to increase taxes to hire more emergency staff.

The maximum amount that can be taxed for fire districts is $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

With housing prices going up in the county, the amount continues to decrease every year.

This year, they are getting 92 cents.

"What we would do is increase that 92 cents to something higher than that probably in the $1.20 or $1.25. Again, not the maximum we can get because we are very aware of the budgets and everybody's bottom line," Chief Shipman said.

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They say it would take a few years to complete renovations and receive new fire apparatus, which is why they want to stagger these funding requests to make sure taxpayers aren't paying for something that isn't in use.

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