County, Bellingham agree on framework for EMS system

Published on Wed, Jun 13, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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Nearly two years after Whatcom County moved to dissolve the existing countywide emergency medical services (EMS) system, county and city of Bellingham officials have agreed on the framework for a new one.

Both the Whatcom County and Bellingham city councils have unanimously approved a proposal to reorganize the way the county’s EMS system, called Whatcom Medic One, is governed. The changes will allow Whatcom County to have a greater control over how the service is administered.

Whatcom County Executive Jack Louws and Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville explained these changes to Whatcom County Council members at the June 5 council meeting. The pair had previously received approval of the plan from the Bellingham City Council.

The change comes after county council members voted to dissolve the current Medic One agreement with the city of Bellingham by December 2013. The county currently contracts with the Bellingham Fire Department for advanced life support services (ALS) throughout the county, though county council members felt Bellingham had too much control over the system.

The new agreement will create a nine-member Medic One oversight board, which will comprise representatives from the county, city of Bellingham, medical community, small cities and county fire districts. In managing the affairs of the countywide EMS system, the oversight board will answer directly to Whatcom County and city of Bellingham councils, Louws explained.

“If this system will provide more oversight than the old system, it’s a win-win,” Louws said.

The county will contract with Bellingham to administer the EMS system on a day-to-day level, similar to the current setup, Louws explained.

Administrative personnel, while still employed by the city, will report directly to the oversight board and indirectly to both the county and city councils.

At the June 5 Whatcom County Council meeting, council member Sam Crawford applauded the work Louws and Linville had been doing for the past several months. Crawford added that there was a fair amount of compromise in developing the new system and cited his willingness to back off of some of his reservations about the city managing the administrative side.

“We’ve still got a lot of work to do on this, but this is a very important stepping stone,” Crawford said.

On the EMS service side, Louws said most county residents won’t notice much difference between the new and old system. Whatcom County will still contract with the Bellingham Fire Department for four, full-time ALS units that will serve countywide, in addition to contracting with Fire District 7 in Ferndale for a half-time fifth unit.

A disagreement between the Bellingham Fire Department and District 7 over training the fifth Medic One unit forced District 7 firefighters to travel to the Seattle area for ALS training. Louws said the new EMS system will allow any county fire district to send firefighters for ALS training at any other ALS-certified fire agency in the county.

“[The new system] will require training programs to be open to multiple agencies,” Louws said. “We will collaborate on making this happen as locally as we possibly can.”

Medic One provides paramedics trained in advanced life support, 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.

With the new program’s framework in place, Louws will work to hammer out the details of the agreements between the city and county and plans to have them ready to sign by the end of 2012.

The agreements will be put in place during 2013, and the new system will be fully implemented by January 1, 2014, Louws said.