What is it going to take?

by Albert Olson, John Jensen

and Rebecca K. Smith

It is baffling to us why the SJC Public Hospital District #1 (PHD) will not embrace consolidation with San Juan Island Fire & Rescue (SJIF&R). Citizens want it, it saves taxpayer money, it improves response times, it’s how the majority of emergency service agencies in the nation handle it, and in a community our size, it just makes sense.

In the PHD’s own words (July 28, 2021 Memorandum of Understanding) they outlined their expectations:

• to “further the goal of integrating EMS services into the Fire District”

• to “achieve integration of Fire and EMS into a single agency”

• to “eliminate duplication and redundancy”

• to “increase efficiency”

• to “provide high quality services to the residents of the Fire District and Hospital District”

How could they believe, just a few weeks ago, that it is:

“in the best interests of the citizens”

“maximizes the ability to provide emergency services”

“will be of substantial benefit to the public, staff and volunteers”

but now believe it is not? Do they now think it’s better for residents to pay more taxes for less service and to spend more money every year for duplication and redundancy, for less efficiency, for lower quality services to citizens?

Since 2016 several citizen committees and elected officials have all recommended integration:

• A year-long study by the taxpayer-funded Citizens Advisory Group (CAG) recommended integration, concluding it’s in the best interests of our community

• The CAG found that savings could be as much as $275,000-$300,000 taxpayer dollars every year

• Fire and PHD boards voted to approve integration

• Both past and current Medical Program Directors have spoken on behalf of integration

• Nearly 60% of voters in the last election voted to fund integration

How can the PHD continue to ignore the wishes of the majority of citizens and the recommendations of numerous citizen committees over the past 6 years?

We’ve come a long way during our decades of service in Fire and EMS. 30 years ago, the fire stations were separate, but once the headquarters station was built, firefighters all came together to train and operate together. We then improved on that when the Town of Friday Harbor joined the county and we were all under a unified command. EMT’s, Paramedics and Fire personnel used to hold quarterly joint training exercises, but the PHD no longer sanctions that practice.

What’s it going to take to unify our emergency services on this island?

It’s long past time to get this done. Support integration and VOTE NO on the PHD EMS levy. It’s time to get back to working together for the health and safety of our community.