San Juan Island EMS Chief Jerry Martin to retire in April

After three years of working as chief of San Juan Island Emergency Medical Services, Jerry Martin is passing the baton over to Karl Kuetzing. Martin announced his retirement on Jan. 25; he said he will work until April 1.

“It’s been a privilege to serve the people,” Martin said. “It’s been a good career.”

Severance of $69,600 was included in the EMS budget this year to cover six months of salary and to pay for eligible benefits.

Martin is a Washington native who was born in Seattle and grew up in Issaquah. He started at Big Bend Community College in Moses Lake to earn a degree in business and aviation. He then went to Western Washington University for a year before discovering his love for EMS.

“I started as a volunteer back in 1978 over in Grant County and Moses Lake and kept involved with that while I was going to college and just decided that this was a good career,” Martin said.

Martin attained a paramedic degree from Tacoma Community College in 1984. He then worked as a firefighter and emergency medical technician with Bellingham Fire for 17 years, three of those spent as a trainer. He then was division chief of EMS for Whatcom County Fire District (Ferndale) for a decade before moving to San Juan Island to take the helm on Jan. 1, 2016.

Three to five years was his goal as chief, and Jan. 1 was Martin’s three-year anniversary. He originally tendered his resignation about this time last year with the intent to leave in April, but then said he’d stay for three or four more months or until the proposed San Juan Island EMS and San Juan Island Fire and Rescue merger. With Kuetzing selected to take over duties, Martin has decided it is time to call it quits.

“But now, the fire department here has hired a fire chief that is very trustworthy. He’s a guy that you could leave EMS with and you know that he would continue with the programs we’ve started and take really good care of the people out there; so, it’s time to move on,” Martin said.

Martin lives on San Juan Island with his wife Karin. They have four adult children – Bo, Kameron, Jon and Kelsey. Though he is unsure of his plans for retirement are, he knows that Karin wants to travel, so that’s the first thing on the to-do list.

The department is in good hands with Kuetzing, according to Martin, and he’s leaving it in good shape to continue forward. During his tenure, he said that San Juan EMS has initiated a great community paramedicine program, led by Lainey Volk.

“She’s fantastic,” Martin said.

The program, funded by a combination of EMS and grant funds, allows the department to recognize repeat patients who may not have all the necessities to care for themselves and to help them get the services and support they need.

This month, EMS was able to begin allowing around-the-clock EMT service to supplement its 24/7 paramedic availability.

“That program is working out good,” Martin said. “We’ve been able to implement a lot of good programs here.”

Martin said that in 2018, EMS was “in the black” financially. He added that the department made good progress toward the merger over the past year.

Fire and EMS separated around 41 years ago, Martin said. According to him, EMS responded to approximately 1,000 calls last year and fire responded to about 300. A lot of those calls were doubled up coverage.

“I’d like to see, and I think this is going to happen, fire and EMS merge,” Martin said. “I think that it’s time to put fire and EMS back together. … This just makes sense.”