Dwight Colley and incumbent Bob Jarman are both running for Commissioner No. 2 on the board of San Juan County Fire Protection District No. 3, otherwise known as San Juan Island Fire and Rescue in the November General Election.
What are some key things you’d like to focus on as fire commissioner?
Colley: The potential merger of San Juan Emergency Medical Services; the absence of anyone on the fire commission with current EMS credentials; accountability. More than seventy percent of aid calls on San Juan Island are medical in nature, not fire-related. Yet the fire commission includes no one with current EMS knowledge or experience. Further, the Fire District’s proposed organization chart for a combined agency shows EMS as a minor subset of the fire department. If the merger occurs EMS must be an equal, if not managing, partner. The Fire District needs greater accountability. To accomplish that, it needs greater transparency. The public’s tax dollars support the Fire District and so the public has a right to know, by state law, exactly what the district is doing, why they’re doing it and how the money is being spent. Currently, it often isn’t easy to learn those things.
Jarman: If I am re-elected as Fire Commissioner, I will continue focusing on finalizing and completing the integration of EMS and Fire services to provide our community with a unified, all-hazard, emergency response department. I will continue building our strong partnerships with County Emergency Services and our islands’ Fire Districts. Through the work our district is doing, we are gathering data on our response times and are in a better position to evaluate our community’s emergency needs. This allows us to ensure we have the equipment we need, in the right place, to meet all of our district islands’ needs, and it ensures we are being fiscally responsible with our taxpayer’s money. I am proud of the staff and volunteers we work with each and every day. We have the expertise and commitment in place to advance emergency response throughout our district.
What drove you to run as fire commissioner?
Colley: As I said, I am an active Emergency Medical Technician with San Juan Island Emergency Medical Services. I think there needs to be at least one fire commissioner with up-to-date EMS experience. This will be especially true if the merger of EMS and the Fire District occurs. Currently, no one on the fire commission has that experience. I also feel strongly that today’s Fire District lacks accountability and transparency. It does a poor job of complying with our state’s public disclosure laws and doesn’t always honor the open public meetings law. I want to hold the Fire District to a higher standard.
Jarman: While working for the local telephone company in a management capacity, I began working with fire and emergency personnel on implementing the Enhanced 911 services and county addressing needed to assist in that service. I realized I wanted to do something personally to be involved with providing emergency service with our fire district. After working on these projects with the outstanding women and men committed to serving our community, the acting Fire Chief asked me to run as a Fire Commissioner. I have proudly served in this nonpartisan role for 15 years and I believe we have more work to do to ensure the future of emergency services for our residents.
How much authority do you have as fire commissioner?
Colley: The Fire Commission sets the budget and operating policies for the fire department. Both of those are carried out by the fire chief, who reports to the commission. So the commission is ultimately in charge of and responsible for the fire department.
Jarman: Our elected Fire Commissioners are directly accountable to our citizens. We are responsible for setting the district’s budget and overseeing the district’s implementation of our communities’ priorities in providing the highest quality emergency services, within our financial means. All three commissioners must work together and follow the basic rules of governance. I do not believe in micro-management and our board sets clear expectations and implementation with frequent communication. Hiring professional, knowledgeable, and experienced personnel who can inspire and lead our organization has been my goal and results in the excellent performance of our staff and volunteers.
What previous experience do you have that could supplement taking on the fire commissioner position?
Colley: I will bring leadership skills, fiscal responsibility and a focus on good government. I developed leadership skills and an understanding of good government as a US Marine and in my 26 years of law enforcement – municipal, US Secret Service and US Dept. of Justice. I increased my fiscal management skills as a clinical psychologist in private practice and in my concurrent volunteer work. I served six years on a multi-jurisdictional mental health board, overseeing 500 mental health workers and an annual budget of $14 million. I served on the Human Rights Committee and was a founder of the Police Department Advisory Board, all in Charlottesville, Virginia and the surrounding county. After I retired to Bethlehem, PA I served on the board of an association of 13 churches of various denominations operating a non-profit winter homeless shelter program. I moved to San Juan Island five years ago and have spent the last three years as an active EMT and serving on the Human Services Advisory Board to the San Juan County Department of Health,.
Jarman: I began managing, training and supervising personnel in 1990 through my work with the telephone company, then as a small business owner. I have many years of experience managing budgets and capital expenditures. I have worked with all of the emergency services and departments in the county. I served four years as a San Juan County Commissioner. This varied experience provided me with the opportunity to learn how our county government works and gave me valuable contacts with other emergency services.
If elected, what are you looking forward to most?
Colley: The possible merger of the current SJIEMS with the Fire District, which will present many challenges: financial, personnel, equipment, training, and culture. San Juan Island already has a first rate EMS, which according to a national survey agency, those who have needed to use SJIEMS give it a 98 out of 100 satisfaction grade. This ranks fifth out of 175 similar agencies across the country: clearly a remarkable achievement. My goal is to ensure the upcoming challenges do not negatively impact this service. As the only state credentialed EMS provider on the Fire Commission I want to ensure the entire combined agency is brought up to this high standard. This will not be an easy task, but one I am looking forward to undertaking.
Jarman: I am looking forward to providing our communities with unified emergency service. By placing EMS and Fire into one agency, we can focus on consistent, professional and compassionate assistance to our residents. When I first started here, the Town of Friday Harbor had its own fire department; the county had their own fire department; the EMS/Paramedics had their own department. I’m looking forward to helping provide efficiencies, partnerships and to meet service needs while being fiscally responsible to our taxpayers.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Colley: I look forward to serving the community by bringing my knowledge and experience to the Fire Commission.
Jarman: I recently had an incident where I needed to call 911. No one ever wants to be in this position. However, the Dispatcher/Fire crew/EMS crew/Paramedics/and Flight crew were all amazing. They were competent, professional, courteous and caring. It made me proud to be a part of our islands’ emergency services and confident that if anyone needs help and calls 911, you will be taken care of in an exceptional way. My experience proved to me that we can all work together as one to meet the challenges of an “All Hazard Department”. By combining these services, we are doing the right thing.