Council votes for Medic One change

Published on Wed, Dec 15, 2010 by By Jeremy Schwartz

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Whatcom County Council has taken another step in restructuring the county’s emergency medical transport system.

In their regular meeting Tuesday, December 7, council voted 5-2 to direct county executive Pete Kremen to send a letter to the city of Bellingham notifying city officials of the county’s intent to discontinue the agreement governing Whatcom Medic One, part of the county’s emergency medical service system. Council members Ken Mann and Carl Weimer opposed the measure.

The notice starts the clock on a three-year timetable to either amend the existing agreement or set up an alternative emergency medical transportation agreement.

Mann said this move would create a fractured system where both the county and the city provide their own advanced life support (ALS), costing both unnecessarily.

Medic One provides paramedics trained in ALS and transportation to the hospital. The county’s fire districts provide basic life support and are supported by Medic One paramedics if necessary.

County deputy administrator Dewey Desler said the county’s discontinuation of the agreement with the city is a step in attempting to unify the system.

Council member Barbara Brenner and others have said Bellingham has historically wielded too much control over the Medic One system. She said she is confident the parties involved will come up with a new plan in the next three years.

“It’s costing us a fortune the way it is,” Brenner said.

Brenner made several amendments to the resolution, changing language she felt was too confrontational.

The amendments, which the council passed, shifted some of the blame off the city of Bellingham for Medic One’s current condition.

Kremen said he would reluctantly draft and send the letter to the city. He agreed with Desler’s sentiment that the current system is already in danger of fracture.

“It’s a thorny, emotional issue,” Kremen said.

Though Bellingham’s fire department and the union that represents its members have come out in opposition to the dissolution of Medic One, council member Sam Crawford said he is optimistic about the change because of the support from the Whatcom County associations of fire chiefs and fire districts.

Crawford said he would support oversight of a new system from a county-wide board rather than having control focused on Bellingham. Bellingham’s fire department provides four of the county’s five Medic One units, while Fire District No. 7, which covers Ferndale and surrounding areas, provides the fifth.

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

A 2008 dispute over who would staff the fifth Medic One unit pitted Bellingham fire department and fire district 7 against each other. At the heart of the issue was Bellingham refusal to help train the Ferndale firefighters.