Northwest NEWS

August 12, 2002

Front Page

Effort for new Medic One provider moves forward

by Jeanette Knutson
   Staff Writer
   A plan is underway for the Redmond Fire Department to become the lead agency for area Medic One paramedic services.
   Evergreen Healthcare - the current provider of Advanced Life Support services for northeast King County - is dropping out of the Medic One system because funds allocated through the Medic One levy haven't been covering Evergreen's costs. Six-figure budget shortfalls have not been uncommon.
   Kendra Weil, speaking on behalf of Evergreen Healthcare, said, "For more than 25 years Evergreen Healthcare and King County have enjoyed a strong working relationship in the sponsorship of Advanced Life Support services. Both the county and Evergreen can be proud of this record of service.
   "As for the transition, paramedic services are traditionally based out of fire departments so this seems a natural fit that we're very supportive of. Of course, this will be a seamless transition with no interruption of service. With the fire department managing Medic One, the county will continue to get the high quality emergency medical services that it has always received."
   Tom Hearne is the manager of King County EMS (Emergency Medical Services). His division of Seattle-King County Department of Public Health oversees the funding implementation of the Medic One program, makes sure high medical standards are upheld, and helps determine where the paramedic rigs will be placed.
   "(Transition of services to a new lead agency)," said Hearne, "has not been an easy process. It is, however, an important step in the history of paramedic services. There haven't been very many transfers of service (in the past quarter century). The last one was in 1979 when King County took over the South County service. Paramedic services in Shoreline, Bellevue, Vashon Island and Seattle, for instance, are still being provided by the groups that founded them."
   Under the new scheme, Redmond Fire Department - led by Fire Chief John Ryan - would serve as lead agency to deliver emergency medical services to the cities of Kirkland, Woodinville, Duvall, and, of course, Redmond. Medic One trucks would remain where they are: one at Redmond's main firehouse, one at Evergreen Hospital, and one at Woodinville's Cottage Lake fire station. Of course, the paramedic training will continue to be rigorous, continue to be offered through Harborview Medical Center. And staffing levels will remain the same.
   Fire Chief John Lambert of District 45 said, "The medics might have a different patch on their shoulders, but basically citizens will see the same people, the same rigs, the same quality service."
   But a number of things need to happen before the fire-based Medic One plan becomes a reality. Redmond Fire Department did receive unanimous approval from the Redmond City Council to proceed with the plan. Yet, understandably, the Redmond City Council wants assurances that the EMS levy allocation gets approved by the King County Council. This, according to Hearne, usually happens in November and is little more than a formality. There is also interest in getting interlocal agreements signed with the City of Kirkland and the boards of directors of Woodinville Fire & Life Safety and Fire District 45. A contract must also be signed with King County, another formality said Hearne. And labor negotiations with current Evergreen paramedics and the firefighters union need to take place.
   Under the new plan, all paramedics would become Fire Department employees. In fact, the goal is to have paramedics become Firefighter I certified so that paramedics, if the opportunity presents itself, can also be used in combating fires.
   "Many of the existing paramedics," said Fire Chief Steve Smith of Woodinville Fire & Life Safety, "have firefighting background. Those folks can upgrade their training fairly easily."
   "Years ago," said Redmond Fire Chief John Ryan, "those who were interested in becoming paramedics had to quit the fire service and hire on at Evergreen or some other private company."
   Ryan sees an advantage of having firefighter/paramedics at the scene of fires. Not only could they attend to hurt fire victims, they can also attend to injured firefighters, he said.
   Though not all paramedics may want to become firefighters. Some have been on the job for 25 years. If they began their paramedic careers at, say, age 30, it stands to reason that at age 55, they may not want to embark upon a new firefighting career.
   This and a myriad of other paramedic/firefighter issues remain to be resolved.
   Not only would paramedics become firefighters in a fire-based paramedic organization, paramedic candidates would be drawn from the firefighter pool. Having personnel with the ability to play two roles would allow fire departments a certain flexibility.
   Chief Ryan likens having double-hatted employees to having an extra insurance policy.
   "If there were two more firefighters on the scene of a fire," said Woodinville's Chief Smith, "I know it doesn't sound like much, but it would help; it would help a lot."
   "If there are any advantages (resulting from the fire department taking over the lead-agency role)," said Redmond's Chief Ryan, "they will be invisible our citizens."
   Ryan is hoping for a January 2003 transition.
   "We're excited for the process to move forward," said District 45 Chief Lambert.
   "(Progress to date) is very positive," said Hearne. "People have worked very hard on this. It was a good regional effort. They've been thorough and I know they'll be successful. People on the street haven't seen any change in service even though we've been involved in transition talks for 18 months now. And that's the way it should be."