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Commissioner Position 2 race for Bainbridge Island fire board features two very different candidates
The race for Bainbridge Island Fire Department Commissioner Position 2 features two candidates who could not be more different in terms of their life experiences and personal perspectives.
The issues dominating the election discussions are fire station manning, departmental fairness and the responsible handling of the budget. The candidates for the position are YongSuk Cho and David H. Lynch. Both men have lived on the island since 1988. The position carries a six-year term.
David H. Lynch has held numerous leadership and supervisory roles in various organizations. He worked at the National Cancer Institute and the University of Utah Medical School. He has served on both governmental and corporate scientific advisory boards and grant review committees.
Locally he has served on the Bainbridge Island Harbor Commission and played a significant role in obtaining a $2 million settlement from the Washington State Ferry system that has been designated for waterfront improvement projects around Bainbridge.
Throughout the past two years, Lynch had become acquainted with the operations and challenges of the Bainbridge Island Fire Department through a close association with a previous department business administrator, who was suffering from health problems.
“We had a lot of discussions about the fire department, Lynch said. “One of the things that was interesting was, as a result of that [interaction], not only getting interested in the business of the fire department but seeing how the members of the department, the fire department family, worked to help take care of him.”
Lynch said the most important issue of the election is to maintain objectivity among the commissioners, and to avoid any possible conflict of interest that the perspective of a person uninvolved in the daily happenings of the department is essential. He argued that the technical ability of the job is the responsibility of the actual firefighters, the function of the commission is to run the department and ensure they have the tools, training and resources they need.
“The fire department is an independent entity,” Lynch said. “A personal agenda can’t be what drives decision-making.”
“The commission is essentially a board of directors of that company that we call the fire department,” he continued. “Historically most of the members of the commission have been what I call ‘insiders.’ Are they really the best people to act as the board of directors? Knowing how to put water on a fire or pull somebody out of a wreck doesn’t necessarily train you for the fiscal, legal matters that are going to govern the fire department. Working on the Ford assembly line doesn’t make you a candidate for the board of directors.”
Lynch also champions the proper staffing of Station 23, located on NE Phelps Road, which he says is staffed only 12 percent of the time. According to Lynch, the original plan to staff the station properly was affected by low income revenues during the recent recession and the department could not afford to hire and train enough individuals to staff the station as planned.
“I think that’s a critical thing in the near-term that needs to be addressed,” Lynch said.
According to Lynch, approximately 20 percent of the total number of emergency calls made last year originated from a location within Station 23’s area of responsibility.
“It takes a significant period of time to get from Station 21 up to the north end,” Lynch said.
He cited one call last year specifically, concerning a downed power line, to which the department managed to respond in approximately 14 minutes.
“The fact that it was downed power lines, that’s great,” he said. “But if you’re the one that’s there having the heart attack, 14 minutes is a long time. By being able to staff Station 23 the response times would be cut in most cases, I believe, dramatically.”
Cho has a long career with the fire department. His experience includes 22 years as a volunteer firefighter / EMT for the Bainbridge Island Fire Department, 14 years as a career firefighter/EMT with the Bainbridge department, eight years as a member of FEMA Disaster Medical Assistance Team, including federal deployments in reaction to the Atlanta Olympic bombing, the 1994 Northridge earthquake and North Dakota flooding, and seven years as a volunteer EMT for Bainbridge Island Ambulance.
After decades of interaction with and participation in the fire department and the community itself on Bainbridge Island, following a move here from South Korea when he was 17, Cho said that to properly facilitate the work of the fire department to better serve the people will require a commissioner with knowledge of the department’s inner workings, policies and history.
“A lot of people helped me out and that includes the fire department,” Cho said. “I’m in a position now where I can help them, members of the fire department as well as the citizens.”
Cho agreed that the manning of Station 23 remains a dominant safety issue on the island.
“If I’m the citizen who lives on the north end of Bainbridge, I should be really concerned why it’s not manned,” he said.
He proposed that the way to properly man the island’s stations and ensure the safety of citizens is to improve the volunteer firefighter program.
According to Cho, for what the taxpayers spend on the career of one full-time firefighter they could afford approximately 10 volunteers, of which at least several would be “very active.”
“Compared to about 20 or 25 years ago, there are less volunteers on Bainbridge Island,” Cho said. “I think it’s a policy issue and how volunteers are treated. I think it’s a huge shift in safety for the responders as well as the citizens.”
Cho cited new policies which have affected volunteer training opportunities as well as limited the amount of time they can actually spend at the firehouse as reasons for the decreased program participation.
“Unless you’ve been around you really don’t know the reasons behind it,” Cho said. “Even the longest commissioner we have on the board currently has only been there, what, three years? They don’t have the history behind it. They’re relying on the chiefs to filter the information to them.”
“I’m in a unique position to help the department and help the people of Bainbridge, having that knowledge and experience,” he said.
To the concerns regarding possible conflicts of interest due to his occupation and involvement with the department, Cho said his employment as a firefighter in Seattle is a separate aspect of his professional life and that his actions will be based on what is best for the citizens.
“I don’t really see it,” Cho said about the concern. “Most of them [Bainbridge firefighters] are my friends, but that actually in fact enhances being a commissioner, I think. Because you see what policy changes do to the responders. So you are more careful about what that policy does to each member and how that affects their ability to do things. Currently there are no policy-level decisions as to how volunteers are utilized. By putting some language into the policy that we are going to cover Station 23 50 percent of the time with volunteers, it gives them teeth to enforce it. Hold the chiefs accountable for making sure it gets done.”
In addition to improving the volunteer program to support station manning, Cho said he hopes to initiate a large-scale voluntary disaster preparedness initiative on the island to include medical professionals and local construction workers to account for readily available resources should a disaster-scenario occur.
In the event of an earthquake, for example, the island would be largely unprepared, he said.
Cho said that if he was elected he would ask for permission to stay involved as a volunteer firefighter, but if denied by the board he would respect that decision.
“Among the candidates that we have at this time, I have more to lose by getting elected because I really enjoy responding and helping people. Why are we doing this? The bottom line is to help out people,” he said.
David H. Lynch
Occupation: CEO of a small biotechnology company
Education: Ph.D. in Experimental Pathology, University of Utah School of Medicine
Previously held elected position: None.
Web address: Lynch prefers to be emailed directly (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Community service: Bainbridge Island Harbor Commission.
Fun fact: Lynch is a life-long avid sailor, even volunteering his time to teach classes to children as part of several community events.
Education: Bachelor of Science in Materials Science and Engineering, University of Washington
Previously held elected position: None.
Web address: Cho prefers to be emailed directly (email@example.com)
Community service: Extensive volunteer history with Bainbridge Island Fire Department and EMT for Bainbridge Island Ambulance. Involved with the Cadet program, the Resident program as well as the Technical Rescue Program and various training programs.
Fun fact: Cho is very good at Algebra and has tutored students from his children's school.