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Fire board hopefuls pledge their loyalty to department

David Coatsworth and Michael Adams -
David Coatsworth and Michael Adams
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One is a volunteer, the other served for two years during his college years.

It’s a race between a “responder” and an “administrator,” with the Bainbridge Island Fire Department the sure winner.

That’s how fire commission chair Glen Tyrrell characterizes the contest to fill his soon-to-be vacant seat.

The candidates, longtime firefighter and medic David Coatsworth and marine operations consultant Michael Adams, would both “bring greatness to the fire department and the community,” said Tyrrell, who plans to travel in the next few years after retiring from the commission.

Coatsworth, who works for the Seattle Fire Department and volunteers for the BIFD, “understands the needs of our responders and recognizes the trends in responses,” Tyrrell said. “He’s got a physical response to the lights and the sirens, and that’s a plus.”

Adams, the general manager for Pacific Marine Technical Services, “has a great attention to detail, can analyze information, draw conclusions, adapt very quickly to changes,” Tyrrell said.

“Basically, (Adams) spends a lot of time on business, (Coatsworth) spends a lot of time on people,” he added.

The two candidates also agree that the community stands to benefit regardless of who earns the most votes in November.

“It’s a win-win situation either way,” said Coatsworth, who has served on fire departments for nearly 21 years.

However, a few distinctions emerge as the candidates discuss their priorities for the department.

Coatsworth wants to bring the department “back to the core mission” of responding to common emergencies, including auto accidents, medical problems and house fires.

“Ever since 9/11, there’s been a significant shift directing fire service training for the one big, bad thing – a terrorist attack or natural disaster,” he said. “But if we put all our eggs in one basket, we’ll forget the basics.

“We have to do well the things that we do day-in and day-out, otherwise we’ll be a mediocre department.”

Adams, an island native who served as a volunteer firefighter for two years while attending Washington State University, said core services are important but disagrees that large-scale emergency training will hamper the department’s ability to respond.

“There is a need to train and work as a cohesive team,” with other emergency responders, he said.

Adams has organized inter-agency emergency training in the Puget Sound region through Pacific Marine Technical Services. Recently, he helped write grants for a large, Department of Homeland Security-funded marine training for Bainbridge firefighters, 12 other fire departments, the U.S. Coast Guard, port authorities, county law enforcement and federal agencies.

“Doing these big-picture things is important” he said, especially because emergency response training for terrorist attacks translates into heightened ability for most other emergencies. “And it’s often funded by the feds and relieves pressure on the (local) training budget. So, it’s not on the local dime, it’s on ‘the one big dime.’”

Coatsworth cautions that the vast amounts of funds now available for terror-related preparedness may shift training away from basic services.

“There’s big money for training against WMDs and terrorism, and that’s well and good, but we can’t leave our core mission behind,” he said.

Both candidates say they’ll make it a priority to upgrade the department’s communications equipment, which Coatsworth described as inoperative on some parts of the island.

Adams wants to ensure local fire service provided to Washington State Ferries fetches a respectable price.

Coatsworth said he wants to help steer the department as island demographics change and the ready pool of qualified volunteers continues to shrink.

“People here work in Silverdale, Bremerton and Seattle,” he said. “It’s not like it was 60 years ago when your firefighter was also your milkman or your mailman, living and working here on the island. In five or 10 years, we may not be able to depend on volunteers as much and may need more career people.”

No matter who wins the race, Tyrrell believes both Adams and Coatsworth would fill his commission seat well.

“They’re both near and dear friends and I think they’ll both find my seat a wonderful fit,” he said.

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