Few, if any, details have been set in stone, but initial discussions suggest Whatcom County’s new emergency medical system will mean little change for North Whatcom Fire and Rescue (NWFR).
This was the main point newly appointed NWFR fire chief Ron Anderson sought to convey to the NWFR fire commissioners at their May 17 meeting. Anderson had previously met with Bellingham Fire Department chief Bill Boyd and South Whatcom Fire Authority chief Dave Ralston, both of whom gave Anderson an update on planning efforts for a new countywide EMS program.
“It doesn’t sound like anything’s really going to change for us,” Anderson told the commissioners.
Anderson said Whatcom County Executive Jack Louws and Bellingham mayor Kelli Linville have been “working behind closed doors” to hash out an EMS plan acceptable to both the city and the county. The city and the county began this work at the end of 2010 when the county council voted to dissolve the existing Medic One agreement with the city of Bellingham by 2013.
Assistant chief Jeff Hofstad said the new system will be merging the administrative sides of the advanced life support (ALS) services for both the Bellingham Fire Department and Fire District 7, which covers Ferndale. Four of the five Medic One units that cover the entire county are based out of the Bellingham Fire Department while the fifth is based out of District 7.
Medic One provides paramedics trained in ALS, which means treating serious medical emergencies such as gunshot wounds or heart attacks. The county’s fire districts provide basic life support and are supported by Medic One paramedics if necessary.
Following a union dispute that forced the Ferndale Medic One unit, Medic 41, to receive ALS training in Seattle rather than Bellingham, the Whatcom County Council sought to dissolve the Medic One agreement with the city of Bellingham. County council members felt Bellingham had too much control over a system that was supposed to represent the entire county.
Currently, Ferndale pays for Medic 41 out of its own pocket, Anderson said. Both the county and Bellingham seem willing to work with Ferndale and develop a reimbursement arrangement for using District 7’s ALS services.
If a countywide EMS system were not maintained, Anderson said that would mean significant cost increases for NWFR. For NWFR paramedics to handle ALS cases, they would have to receive additional training and carry extra equipment and medicine in their ambulances, both of which would prove costly.
“Some of those drugs can be very expensive,” Anderson said.Anderson said he is generally hopeful a countywide EMS system would be maintained based on the discussions he’s heard. NWFR supports keeping things pretty much exactly as they are, he added.
“We would wholeheartedly support any proposal that keeps it a countywide system,” Anderson said. “The last thing everybody wants to see is a fractured system where everybody does their own thing.”