Support for paramedic levy surprising

Voters on the Key Peninsula overwhelmingly renewed the tax levy supporting their paramedic service last week, despite fallout from an embarrassing episode and a fire commissioner campaigning against the measure.

The Key Peninsula Fire Department’s measure was passing with 81 percent of the vote, based on the latest tally released Friday afternoon. Ballots are still being counted.

Elsewhere in Pierce County, voters were passing two tax measures for fire protection and emergency medical response in Lakewood and Milton. A measure for South Pierce Fire & Rescue was too close to call.

Tom Lique, chief of Fire District No. 16 on the Key Peninsula, said he was a “little bit shocked by such an overwhelming margin.”

He had reason to be.

One of his bosses, Commissioner Allen Yanity, led a campaign against the measure, including writing the opposing statement in the voters’ pamphlet.

Also, four days before the election, the district released details of an incident Lique called embarrassing: An underage volunteer firefighter allegedly got drunk and flooded a Wenatchee hotel bathroom at a training conference in June.

Lique terminated the firefighter and disciplined three other employees for allowing his drinking and for not informing management of the incident. The investigation of a fifth employee is pending.

“I really tried to let the process play itself out independent of the election, and I think people appreciated it,” Lique said.

Greg Glassie, vice president of Key Peninsula Professional Firefighters Local 3152, said the political climate has been contentious and there’s been information and misinformation throughout the campaign.

“We dared to hope that the voters would be able to separate the two issues, and they did,” he said. “We’re grateful and overjoyed.”

The union contributed nearly $12,000 to the campaign in support of the levy, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission’s online database.

Yanity offered another explanation for the wide margin of passage.

“People are scared to death of losing the ambulance,” he said Friday. “We are a long way from the hospital.”

The district said throughout the campaign that it could not guarantee 24-hour paramedic response if the levy failed, and that about half of the paid work force would be laid off.

Yanity based his anti-levy campaign on the idea that the district needs a stronger drug-testing system.

Fire commissioners had censured him for revealing preliminary information from the district’s investigation of the Wenatchee incident during an Aug. 3 election forum. They said he learned the information during an executive, or closed, session of the board.

Yanity claimed he didn’t say anything at the forum that wasn’t already common knowledge.Lique said none of the disciplined firefighters has filed a grievance. Glassie, the union officer representing the career firefighters, said that decision hasn’t been made yet.