First responders

Walla Walla County Fire Dist. 4 firefighter Brian Richards helps battle a blaze along the 14th fairway at Veterans Memorial Golf Course on Aug. 17, 2016.

First responders in Walla Walla County may soon collectively receive up to $250,000 in premium pay through federal funds approved by the Board of County Commissioners on Monday, Aug. 16.

The commissioners received requests earlier in August to use American Rescue Plan Act funds to provide premium pay for first responders in the Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Office, Fire Districts 1-8, and for corrections staff.

On Aug. 16, the commissioners approved county staff to work out specific details of how up to $250,000 in premium pay would be allocated for each group of first responders.

The additional pay for county personnel who have been on the front line of the pandemic is well deserved, wrote Commissioner Jennifer Mayberry during a presentation to her fellow commissioners.

“Our law enforcement during the pandemic was going into uncontrolled situations all the time,” Mayberry wrote. “They put themselves in harm’s way every single day and without having the proper personal protective equipment against COVID-positive individuals.”

Since January 2020, nearly 60% of all officer deaths in the nation have been due to COVID-19, Mayberry said, citing data from the Officer Down Memorial Page, a nonprofit that tracks on-duty officer deaths. Washington state also has fewer than half as many officers per capita as the national average, she continued, citing data from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

“I think we all need to do a better job on keeping the officers that we have,” Mayberry wrote. “We need to let them know that we need them, and we appreciate them and stand up for them in our public meetings.”

The specific allocation of the $250,000 between fire, police and corrections staff remains to be worked out, as well as how much money any individual would receive.

The American Rescue Plan Act, a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill passed by Congress, allows for federal funds to be used for premium pay for essential government workers of up to $13 per hour worked during the pandemic, not to exceed $25,000 for any single worker. Premium pay can be paid retroactively.

Emry Dinman can be reached at emrydinman@wwub.com or 425-941-5829.

Reporter covering agriculture, Walla Walla city and county government, and other topics.

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