Sharp: Don't put the cart before the horse with proposed EMS/Fire merger Featured

Dear Editor:

The proposed merger of EMS and the San Juan Island Fire Department is a wise move on many levels. If done correctly, it will be financially efficient and provide excellent combined emergency services to our community. To that end, the Citizens’ Advisory Group (CAG) spent well over a year conducting a meticulous and thorough study of all the ramifications of such a merger. CAG concluded that a merger was the best route, and made recommendations for implementation, including the steps necessary to make a smooth transition for combining the two disparate entities.

Unfortunately, the subsequent appointed Steering Committee, composed of both elected and unelected representatives from the Public Hospital District, Fire Department and Town of Friday Harbor, have ignored the recommended path laid out by the CAG. Instead, they propose an interlocal contract for immediate administrative consolidation of power in the Fire Department Chief. This proposed contract is ill conceived and ill timed.

First, CAG did not recommend such a step, particularly in the early days of the merger transition. Other areas demand attention before administrative consolidation, such as resolution of the disparate boundaries of the EMS and Fire Department; cross training of personnel; inclusion of the Town of Friday Harbor; and appropriate licensing.

Second, adoption of the interlocal contract at this time is to put it mildly, presumptuous. Four newly elected Public Hospital Commissioners will take office very shortly. It is quite inappropriate to saddle a new board with a contract to which they have had no control, yet will be obligated to implement.

The old adage, “the cart before the horse” comes to mind. A successful merger transition requires many steps; the first one should not be the administrative consolidation in the interlocal contract. Slow down and do it right.

Barbara Sharp

San Juan Island

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