Opinion

BIFD's plan works for the community | Letters | Oct. 16

I wholeheartedly support Bainbridge Island Fire Department’s EMS levy.

As a retired fire commissioner, CPA and general skeptic regarding local government, I wanted to see for myself the rationale behind the levy request.

I read the department’s five-year financial history, 10-year financial plan, changes in head count, and salary histories. I discussed it with Chief Hank Teran, Commissioner Dave Coatsworth and Adm-inistrator Carol Mezen.

To be honest, I asked my toughest questions and quickly came to the conclusion that BIFD carefully thought out its existing challenges and has come up with a solid action plan to meet them in a cost-effective, efficient manner.

When I was a commissioner six years ago, changing island demographics were creating significant challenges to our volunteer base and dramatically increasing the number of EMS calls. The higher average age of island residents impacted EMS calls, while the available pool of people who could commit to volunteer was decreasing.

The trend continues, with 75 percent of the emergency calls being medical, and an average of 5.2 percent increase in calls every year since I was a commissioner.

Multiple EMS calls are carefully monitored since there is only one paramedic on duty to respond to calls. The department has done an excellent job in meeting call requirements, but currently has staff to cover only one of the three fire stations spread across the island.

They frequently juggle multiple emergency calls at once and so far there have been no dire consequences.

If people could schedule their heart attacks to coincide with paramedic and EMS staff availability then one paramedic would be sufficient for years to come.

Life doesn’t work that way; whether you are a young student who has fallen off a bike or a senior citizen with chest pains without this levy you may be forced to “take a number and wait.”

Increasing EMS calls will overwhelm departmental creativity in meeting needs with existing resources.

It is time to move to two on-duty paramedics on the island, and staff the other two stations in order to provide the critical response time and manpower that could mean the difference between life and death.

Kudos are due to the chief, current commissioners and paid and volunteer staff for making the necessary cultural shift to meet current island needs and moving the department into the future. They are shifting from primarily volunteers to a paid department with critical volunteer support. Volunteer training requirements are tougher, but training time is more available. A pilot program is under way that will allow volunteers to focus their training on medical response.

Most importantly to the person needing medical help, you will not be able to discern between paid or volunteer responders, since standards remain high in all categories of response.

BIFD has recently completed a strategic plan coupled with tactical steps and measureable benchmarks to move into the future. Look at this plan on the department’s Web site to gain your own comfort from my conclusions, which is that the department cannot maintain current response standards without this levy.

I believe BIFD has the best financial planning/reporting of any of the island taxing districts and is using that information in making operational decisions that will meet future challenges and emergency needs in the best manner possible.

We all need the medical response provided by the fire department and more importantly, they need our help as well.

Doug Johnson is a former commissioner for Bainbridge Island Fire District.

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