Fire and EMS should merge

We agree with Citizen’s Advisory Group recommendation that San Juan Island’s fire and emergency medical services should be merged into one entity.

After nearly a year of research and discussion, the CAG, that was appointed by a joint committee of the San Juan Island County Public Hospital District 1 and San Juan Island Fire District Commissioners, delivered its report. The 117-page document outlined ways for the proposed future of a united fire and EMS on the island to proceed.

It is apparent to us that the five people chosen to represent the community and the organizations involved put a lot of time, effort, energy and thought into their recommendation.

There are still many things that need to be discussed, and while there is an end in sight, it still will likely be quite some time before we see a united fire and EMS force on San Juan. But we think it should be done.

We see how the Orcas Island Fire and Rescue operates, with a budget reportedly $1 million less than San Juan’s EMS and fire combined, and how there are several volunteers who do not suffer from community service fatigue. A combined force relieves the stress of volunteers having double-up by reporting to two separate locations. Additionally, OIFR is an example of an island entity that successfully combines both services and saves the community the cost of having two locations, overhead, etc. With a merged fire and EMS, up to $1 million could possibly be saved.

We can’t help but wonder about the positive impacts this merger could have on the island.

That’s not to say there won’t be hurdles; any worthwhile task typically has them. Since fire is contracted with Friday Harbor, the town council will have to agree to terminate that arrangement and pursue annexation into the fire district. Up until now, the fee to pay for that deal has come from the town’s property tax on residents.

For this merger to be successful, the town would need to adjust the property tax it collects from residents to be relative to what property tax would be collected by the district after annexation.

There are a lot of moving parts here, and all parties involved need to be prepared to compromise for the greater good of the community. The voters also need to be fully educated on the financial impacts the merger will entail so that they know what the right decision is come election season when these changes will be in front of them for their approval or denial.

We believe that San Juan Fire and EMS should be merged into one entity for the health of our community.