On Thursday, Jan. 10, the public hospital district board unanimously selected Karl Kuetzing to fill the shoes of Jerry Martin, who tendered his resignation on Jan. 25. Watch the Journal for updates on Martin’s leaving.
“With all the questions arising, the interim [chief] is there to just kind of make sure that we’re still staying on course and following the plan that we have in place already, and then facilitating how we move into that new direction – whether it’s a stand-alone EMS agency or consolidation with fire,” Kuetzing said, who has been with San Juan Island EMS since 2012.
The public hospital district has been speaking with the board of fire commissioners for several months about potentially merging the two entities. Per a joint meeting last November, the proposed merger could save a total of $1 million plus allow for more efficiency.
“I told the commissioners when they asked me to stay that I would stay 3-4 months or until the EMS and Fire merger would be finalized,” Martin told the Journal. “I stayed here a year and a year was the magic date for me.”
A Chicago transplant, Kuetzing met his wife at Cornell College while studying for a bachelor’s degree in environmental science. After college, Kuetzing worked as a land surveyor for 20 years, a job he still does in his free time for a Friday Harbor-based company he and his wife own called K2 Surveying.
In 1993, Kuetzing and his family moved to Orville, Washington. He moved to Friday Harbor with his wife Anna and their son Conner in 2002. He joined San Juan EMS as a volunteer and eventually was hired into the full-time position of director of operations in 2015.
Kuetzing explained that he has always been fascinated with biology, and as a child, his goal was to go into the medical field. He said he was a science geek in high school.
“I just loved being in the science lab. I loved dissecting – frogs, pigs, whatever they would let me cut open I would take a look at it inside. I was really fascinated with it,” he said, explaining it’s why he became an EMT.
EMS is important to him because it is “neighbors looking out for neighbors.”
“We just want to help each other out,” Kuetzing said.
A nationally registered EMT, he is also a licensed professional land surveyor and a certified marine naturalist. He volunteers with the county’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network and has been a docent for The Whale Museum.
“I am thankful to be part of such an amazing community and appreciate the opportunity to be involved with such outstanding individuals,” Kuetzing said in his biography on the EMS website.
When he started in 2012, there were only three full-time EMTs and four paramedics. Two more full-time EMTs were added in January 2019 to allow for 24/7 coverage.
Kuetzing said he is confident that San Juan Island EMS will be able to handle whatever changes may come. He is learning from Martin and preparing to steer the department through Martin’s retirement and the possible merger with San Juan Island Fire and Rescue. It makes sense to him to combine the two departments, he said.
“It doesn’t matter to me what patch I’m wearing on my shoulder,” Kuetzing said. “I think we’re doing an extraordinary job as is.”
Kuetzing said making goals as interim chief right now is a little premature. He explained he is proud of the department, as it is leading the state and nation in cardiac response, but added that there is always room for improvement.
As director of operations, Kuetzing was responsible for inventory and making sure all of the equipment was up to standard and ready for use. That particular job will be distributed among the six full-time EMTs rather than falling on the shoulders of one person.
A citizens advisory group was created by the hospital district to consider whether to combine EMS and fire or to keep them separate. Kuetzing said a decision is expected to be made in March.
“There’s a lot of balls in the air,” he said. “We will adapt and do the best we can do with what we’ve got. I think the best we can is pretty darn good. So we’ll just keep moving forward that way.”