No confidence in fire department

by Bill Watson

The authors of this article attempt to confuse the issue presently in front of voters which is whether or not you want to continue the excellent emergency medical services (EMS) on San Juan Island or not. The question is quite simple. If you want an EMS, then vote YES for the Public Hospital District (PHD) Levy RENEWAL ballot measure. If you want no EMS on San Juan Island, then vote NO. Because without this levy, there will be no EMS from either the PHD nor SJI Fire District #1 (FIRE).

The above ballot measure has nothing to do with the issues that this article raises, and I have ONLY one logical answer to their question: “What’s it going to take to support the FIRE/EMS merger?” There is a lack of confidence in the leadership of FIRE. Let me explain my thinking.

The November 2021 ballot contained two items relevant to FIRE: the election of a fire commissioner and a proposed EMS levy under FIRE. The result was the incumbent commissioner was defeated by a relatively unknown (but highly qualified) candidate and the levy measure failed to pass. A clear vote of “No Confidence” in the current FIRE leadership (commissioners and chief). And just to be clear, I fully respect and support the brave paid and volunteer staff of FIRE.

The number one reason for the merger was to save money. And yet, FIRE’s November levy proposal requested $224,068 more tax dollars than the PHD’s current proposal. The CAG expected a savings from the merger of $275,000-$300,00 per year. Maybe this is why FIRE made their November levy request without any public disclosure of a proposed budget about how they planned to spend the money?

FIRE supporters regularly quote the recommendation from the Citizen Advisory Group (CAG). However, FIRE has not completed 4 of the required 7 pre-requisites also included in the CAG recommendation (CAG FINAL REPORT – (

Last year, FIRE annexed the small islands north of San Juan Island, such that they would have the same district boundaries as the PHD (one of the merger pre-requisites). Again, FIRE leadership provided no information about the impact this annexation would have on their budget: additional fire boat, fire-fighting equipment on each island, slip fees at Roche Harbor, fuel, maintenance, etc. No Confidence.

Finally, the fact that members of FIRE are actively campaigning against the PHD levy proposal is, at the very least, very unprofessional and if not illegal, is certainly close to crossing the line. It is illegal for public municipalities to campaign for/against any ballot measure.

To me, these behaviors and decisions do NOT qualify as good leadership and why I have No Confidence in the leadership of FIRE. Vote YES for PHD EMS to maintain the current level of service we deserve and vote for a change of leadership at FIRE as the next two commissioners come up for election on future ballots. New leadership at FIRE is the answer to their question: “What’s it going to take?”