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Wash. cities call for fire-based EMS

They're concerned about the "lack of progress in EMS structural reform" and are pushing for fire and medical services to be managed by a consortium

By Rachel Lerman
Skagit Valley Herald

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. — Four city mayors and their fire chiefs sent a letter Wednesday to the county requesting it meet with the cities to study a fire-based system for emergency medical services.

The letter references a similar request sent to the county Dec. 16, and says the mayors and chiefs are “concerned about the lack of progress in EMS structural reform.”

The letter includes six strategic goals for EMS in the county. The goals, developed by the fire chiefs, include steps for moving to a firebased system, in which fire and medical services would be managed together by a consortium of the four cities: Mount Vernon, Burlington, Sedro-Woolley and Anacortes.

The goals include transitioning ambulance services to city fire departments while keeping existing paramedics; basing subsidies on each agency’s performances and services; developing a transport system between facilities to capture revenue; funding a community paramedic program; employing criteria-based dispatch and giving county fire districts the opportunity to improve response as firstresponder agencies.

The cities indicate the transition of ambulance services to city fire departments should take two to six years.

County Commissioner Ken Dahlstedt, chairman of the EMS Commission, said the county is open to discussions about a possible future fire-based system, but the first priority is stabilizing the current system and maintaining services now.

“We’re open to working with the cities, but they’re not ready to go into the system, so what is it that they would think we would speed up tomorrow that they’re not ready to do for potentially two to six years?” Dahlstedt asked, referencing the cities’ estimate of the transition.

The county is in the process of hiring an EMS director for the soon-to-be-formed department under the commissioners. The No. 1 priority is hiring that person and getting contracts solidified with the three ambulance providers, Dahlstedt said, then looking at possible transitions in the future.

Mount Vernon Mayor Jill Boudreau said the mayors are encouraged that the management structure is moving ahead, but the deployment of services needs to be studied.

At this point, everyone is making assumptions, she said, rather than studying the issue.

“What the cities are trying to do is unparalyze the discussion of reform because we can talk about the idea of making reform but until we start studying it, it’s not meaningful,” she said.

The issue needs to be explored before the next levy cycle, she said. Voters passed a six-year levy in 2012.

The county has hired a consultant to assess the system’s financials. The county needs to have a good financial plan for EMS before it can make long-term commitments, Dahlstedt said.

Sedro-Woolley Mayor Mike Anderson said the commissioners continue shelving reform.

“I think we can solve this thing if the county did what the hired experts told them to do,” he said.

 A report from consultants Emergency Services Consulting International was released in April 2013. It said the services being provided are strong, but cited weaknesses in several other areas, including the fragmented management structure of the system.

 The mayors plan to attend the county commissioner’s next public meeting to present the letter.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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