Smith: SJI EMS finances are only one factor

The PHD board is correct to position themselves as the financial watchdog for San Juan Island EMS. No one seriously disputes that obligation. Financial concerns, however, are only ONE factor that will affect the ability of the agency to accomplish the mission. Repeat - it is ONLY ONE factor.

What has never been understood by 3 of the board members, including the Chair, is that they are equally responsible for oversight of the FUNCTIONAL PERFORMANCE of the agency - the technical ability of the agency to provide emergency medical and trauma care to our citizens and visitors under any and all circumstances, including increasingly common active-shooter incidents and mass casualty incidents.

As Captain Kuetzing said in his remarks to the board, “This agency is not broken”. San Juan Island EMS has continued to provide documented top-level pre-hospital care to the residents and guests of this island for two decades. During recent years, the people at the pointy end of the stick - the career medics and volunteer EMT’s -have managed to maintain this national-level level of performance in spite of being poorly served by top-level management, including the current PHD board.

We have operated for prolonged periods with no Chief, following the departure of Chief Cole. We have functioned without access to local medical officer training and supervision following the decision of Dr. Sullivan to drop his San Juan Island EMS supervisory role.

Our present, well-qualified and soon to depart Chief, has encountered such hostility from the Chairman of the PHD that he has decided that the relationship is untenable.

Now we find ourselves with a new “interim” Chief, Rick Frazier, a personal friend of the Chairman Bill Williams, who has no 911 experience whatsoever. Many observers regard the appointment as a blatant example of cronyism.

With all due credit to Mr. Frazier for his work at Island Air Ambulance, we do not need another financial manager, we already have a financial expert on board - Mr. Chris Compton.

What we need is a seasoned Fire/EMS Chief who can direct our field operations. Mr. Compton has a firm hand on the agency’s financial health. San Juan Island EMS does not sell widgets. What we do is to show up for our island neighbors on the worst day of their lives to step in and handle their medical or trauma situation. Much of the ability of SJIEMS to continue to carry out this mission is dependent on having the best possible Chief in place to supervise, train, guide and provide support during incredibly difficult and stressful situations.

We cannot afford this management misstep to degrade our performance. With this concern in mind, it is imperative that the initiative to fold SJIEMS into District 3 Fire be given 100% support. The notion stated by the newest member of the PHD, Anna Lisa Lindstrom, that the merger cannot be considered until “the agencies financial house is in order” is nonsense - District 3 Fire Board will make that determination.

The PHD has no basis in fact to oppose this proposed merger. The vast majority of all EMS services in the US are Fire Department based.

Once the merger is completed, an appropriate EMS Chief officer could be recruited and installed and this unpleasant and dangerous episode could be put behind us.

Francis Smith Sr EMT SJIEMD

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