Commissioners look at San Juan Island EMS and fire merger pros, cons

Merging San Juan Island’s fire district and emergency medical services came closer toward reality, although no decisions have been made.

“We are not prepared to make a recommendation to the board,” said Chuck Dalldorf, chairman of the Citizens Advisory Group researching the feasibility of such a union.

A joint meeting between San Juan County Hospital District 1, the San Juan Island Fire and Rescue and the advisory group was held at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 12 at the local fire department’s headquarters. The room was full of attendees, many of whom were EMS responders or firefighters.

The advisory group wanted to hear from hospital district board members whether there was support or objection to a potential consolidation.

“If we don’t have complete buy-in, the merger will fail,” Dalldorf said to the hospital commissioners.

Two positive outcomes of combining the fire district and EMS came up at the meeting.

According to the advisory group’s Nov. 28 minutes, savings could reach over $1 million. While one of the benefits of merging the two organizations could be financial, the other advantage may be a more efficient organization.

“We actually felt this isn’t about the money, it is about the best possible health care for the community,” Rick Frazer, an advisory group member, told the commissioners.

A report from the committee is due in early spring, but the members are still sifting through both organizations’ budgets and analyzing where there may be service overlaps and gaps. A primary overlap is the administrative departments.

“We are still going through [both district’s] budgets to compare apples to apples,” Dalldorf explained, adding that while the advisory group is moving ahead smoothly, there was still a lot of work to be done. “What we have discovered is that the issues are complicated. You don’t get a simple yes or no answer to these questions.”

He made it clear the advisory group wants to be careful and thorough in its work.

Each hospital board commissioner vocalized current support for the concept and all expressed gratitude for the committee’s diligence.

“I appreciate your hard work, and I appreciate that you are taking your time to do this right,” said Commissioner Anna Lisa Lindstrum.

The advisory group has analyzed legal ramifications, met with districts that have merged, like Snohomish 1 which serves the south Snohomish County area, and South Beach, which is located in Grays Harbor, Washington, and have met with union representatives for San Juan Island EMS to discuss any concerns the union may have. One concern from union representatives was that if paramedics needed to be crossed-trained in fire, they could lose other training. However, not all of the representatives shared that fear.

Whether a merger is in cards for the future or not is still to be determined, but the advisory group is laying the groundwork on how it might be achieved.

“It is amazing how hard they are working on this,” said Commissioner Warren Appleton, advising the audience to read the committee’s reports.

To learn more about the potential merger, visit sjcphd.org/meeting/citizens-advisory-group-cag.

 

Staff photo/Heather Spaulding
                                Nathan Butler, San Juan County Hospital District 1 board recording secretary.

Staff photo/Heather Spaulding Nathan Butler, San Juan County Hospital District 1 board recording secretary.

Staff photo/Heather Spaulding
                                Albert Olson, fire district commissioner.

Staff photo/Heather Spaulding Albert Olson, fire district commissioner.

Staff photo/Heather Spaulding
                                L-R: Mark Tompkins, citizens advisory group member, and Chuck Dalldorf, citizens advisory group chairman.

Staff photo/Heather Spaulding L-R: Mark Tompkins, citizens advisory group member, and Chuck Dalldorf, citizens advisory group chairman.