Opinion

Applause for paramedics, local heroes

It’s an age-old story: local boy makes good.

This week, islanders can take pride in two young men who’ve made very good, both in their chosen profession and in the cause of service to their community. As reported in this issue, Bainbridge High School graduates Jeremiah Ballou and David Bailey have completed the prestigious advanced life support training program at Harborview Medical Center, and are back working at the Bainbridge Island Fire Department as our first-ever homegrown paramedics.

Only about two-dozen hopefuls are admitted each year to the 10-month program, considered the best and most rigorous in the nation. Ballou and Bailey tested highest among their peers in the department and put the other aspects of their lives on hold for most of a year, subsuming themselves in the elite regimen.

“The program does have a dropout rate, and it’s not like going to the fair – it’s difficult,” Fire Chief Jim Walkowski says. “They come out top-notch paramedics. They’re basically third-year interns in the field (during training).”

For the past 15 years or so, the Bainbridge department has contracted for advanced life support services from the Medic One agency in Seattle. That meant that on any given shift, a paramedic from a pool of about 40 would be working on the island. Those close ties with Medic One helped get two Bainbridge applicants into the Harborview program. (Also, the Medic One Foundation awarded BIFD an $8,000 scholarship, which covered about half the tuition and books for Bailey and Ballou.) With the turn toward in-house paramedics, islanders will see more of their emergency responders living in their community, not just working with it.

To say that department officials are pleased would be a bit of an understatement. And Walkowski sees the success of Ballou and Bailey as “proof positive” to the department’s 50 or so volunteers that they too can move up into the career firefighter ranks as opportunities come available.

We call it a “fire” department, but as others have observed, these days it’s more of an “aid” department – some 70-75 percent of calls each year are for medical problems and other non-fire problems. And because there’s no hospital down the street – after Winslow Clinic, your options are Seattle or Bremerton – many islanders are treating 911 as their first option for medical care, regardless of the degree of actual “emergency.”

While it surely promises less mayhem than Seattle, it’s a busy environment and a challenging one. So hats off to our new paramedics, Jeremiah Ballou and David Bailey.

Given the Harborview training program’s stature, we trust islanders will be in good hands.

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