County to alter emergency management contract

Published on Thu, Aug 12, 2010 by By Jeremy Schwartz

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Whatcom County Council has decided they’re not happy with Whatcom Medic One, the county’s emergency medical service provider, and they’re not going to take it anymore.

The council voted 4-2, with one abstention, Tuesday night to ask county executive Pete Kremen to compose a letter notifying the city of Bellingham of the county’s intent to renegotiate the agreement that governs Medic One over the next three years, starting January 1, 2011.

In 2005, the county government, the county’s emergency response agencies and the city of Bellingham entered into an agreement that provided for cooperation between Medic One and local fire districts. Voters agreed to fund the plan with a sales tax increase in 2006.

Councilmember Barbara Brenner, who supported the resolution, said most of the council feels the county has been left completely out of the loop when it comes to decisions made about the county’s emergency medical services. She said the city of Bellingham has exercised the most control over when and how local paramedics get trained and who pays for it.

The resolution will hopefully make everyone involved in the county’s emergency medical services sit down at the same table and reexamine how Medic One should be organized, Brenner said.

“I think the people have lost faith in Medic One,” she said.

The quality of service provided by all the county’s paramedics has never been in question, Brenner pointed out. What the county does need to look at is how taxpayer money is spent on training paramedics who handle calls across Whatcom County, she said.

“What we need to do is make sure our costs are exactly what we need and nothing more,” Brenner said.

Medic One provides paramedics trained in advanced life support (ALS), such as treating gunshot wounds or heart attacks, and transportation to the hospital. The county’s fire districts provide basic life support and are supported by Medic One paramedics if necessary.

The last few years have been contentious ones for the participants in the emergency medical plan.

The Bellingham fire department has historically provided the paramedics for all of Medic One’s units since Medic One was established in the 1970s. More recently, however, Bellingham’s fire department has refused to participate in ALS training for firefighters outside of its district.

A union dispute in 2008 was the source of the Bellingham fire department’s decision to not provide training to five paramedics from fire district 7, which covers Ferndale and the surrounding areas, in preparation for staffing a fifth Medic One unit based in Ferndale. Voters approved a levy to fund training for Ferndale firefighters to staff the fifth Medic One unit.

The Bellingham fire department argued it had the sole right to staff the new Medic One unit because of its history with the program. Fire District No. 7 officials argued the 2005 agreement gave them the right to use its firefighters and train their own staff.

The disagreement eventually led to fire district 7 leaving the International Association of Fire Fighters, of which the Bellingham fire department is a part, and forming their own guild.

Disputes over training paramedics have been the source of much consternation between the county and the city of Bellingham, which provides funding to Medic One.

County council member Sam Crawford wrote in the resolution voted on by the council that members of the Bellingham’s government have consistently acted in ways that are contrary to the well being of county residents outside of the city.