Under proposed EMS/Fire contract: It's merger first, details later

Less than six months after a citizens committee recommended an estimated two-year process to integrate San Juan Island EMS with the SJI Fire and Rescue Dept, the Fire District and Public Hospital District #1 are poised to sign a 10-year contract giving SJIFR control over SJI EMS. Currently, the PHD oversees SJI EMS.

The draft contract notes the two agencies [SJIFR and PHD] are separate government entities and then says, "Specifically, and without limiting the foregoing, the Fire District shall have the sole discretion and the obligation to determine the exact method by which the services are provided within the Fire District and within the Hospital District unless otherwise stipulated within this Agreement."

In a September 17, 2019 press release, Interim EMS Chief Karl Kuetzing said, "This experience of working under Fire Chief Collins will be essential in helping us explore the benefits of integration before actually going through the process of legally moving EMS to the Fire District. I’m excited to work with him on behalf of the public.” 

"Integration of EMS with Fire and Rescue is completely focused on the level of emergency services we can provide our community, not just today but especially into the future. To be sustainable, we need to maximize resources to provide quality, cost effective emergency response," said Fire Chief Norvin Collins.  

If the contract is adopted, as looks likely,  Wednesday, September 25, the PHD Commissioners would remain fiscally responsible but would not have any authority over the operation of EMS. The PHD will have four new commissioners elected to its board in the November General Election. Their terms will begin January 1, 2020.  The four will be bound to the contract despite not having any say in the decision entering into it

If the decision was delayed for 14 weeks until the four are sworn in, that would mean the decision was made  by Commissioners elected by voters. Three of the current Commissioners were not elected to the positions they now hold. Rebecca Smith a former Fire Commissioner and Warren Appleton were appointed. Dr. Edwards didn't run for re-election but was seated due to a technicality.

In the press release, SJIFR Fire District Chairman Bob Jarman said, "One of the big advantages of beginning with an agreement for administrative services is that we can slow things down some, be more deliberate, and take our time as we go through the necessary ballot measures over the next year or two, and ensure that we are communicating with the public, volunteers, and staff about their needs and concerns." 

Jumping into a contract, sidesteps dealing up front with the complex issues involved with consolidation. The Citizens Advisory Committee (CAG) delineated issues concerning funding, licensing, personnel, boundaries, capital needs, budgets and more in their report.

For example, the two districts have different boundaries. The draft contract assumes the Town of Friday Harbor voters will agree to annexation with the Fire District. It also assumes the outer islands will also agree to be annexed into the Fire District. Elections may happen as soon as April 2020. 

If the voters approve annexation, it would be relatively simple for the fire district to ask voters to fund a levy lid lift which would provide funding for EMS via the fire department. The current SJI EMS levy expires in 2022. If the voters do not approve annexation, the funding choices are more complicated because of the different boundaries. 

Another issue, the Fire Department will need to have an ALS Transport License from the state Department of Health since such licenses cannot be transferred from one agency to another.  

One of the CAG's "Absolute Conditions of Recommendation" was  the expansion of the Fire Commission from three to five members. The draft contract does not include an expansion. 

A joint meeting of the SJIFR Commission and the PHD Commission will take place at 10 a.m. Wednesday, September 25 at the Mullis Street Fire Hall. The PHD will hold its regular monthly meeting at 3 p.m. at the Frank Wilson EMS Building on Spring Street in Friday Harbor. 










at the special joint meeting to be held at 10 a.m.

If the contract is adopted as looks likely at the special joint meeting to be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday, September 25, the PHD Commissioners would remain fiscally responsible but would not have any authority over the operation of EMS. 


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