County to hold special meeting on Whatcom Medic One issue

Published on Tue, May 10, 2011 by Jeremy Schwartz

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Members of both the Whatcom County and Bellingham City councils will host a meeting this Thursday; one of the first steps in developing a county-wide advanced life support system to replace the current Whatcom Medic One.

County council members Barbara Brenner, Sam Crawford and Kathy Kershner, in addition to three Bellingham City Council members, will lead the Medic One Council Policy Working Group meeting. The working group is part of a collection of committees whose job it is to develop a replacement to the county’s current emergency response service, known as Whatcom Medic One.

The county council voted in December to dissolve the agreement between the city of Bellingham and the county that governed Medic One, effective December 2013. Since then, numerous meetings involving fire district, county and city officials have been held to determine how to either reorganize Medic One or develop a completely new system.

Medic One provides paramedics trained in advanced life support (ALS). The county’s fire districts provide basic life support and are supported by Medic One paramedics if necessary.

The Medic One Council Policy Working Group will discuss the process for future meetings during the Medic One reorganization process. It is expected to produce a planning group—one to oversee the entire process—that will most likely consist of eight county representatives and six city of Bellingham representatives. 

Most county council members, Crawford and Brenner included, have historically felt that the city of Bellingham has wielded too much control over the administration of Medic One.

The issue came to a head in 2008 when a union dispute over whose firefighters would staff the fifth Medic One unit drove a wedge between Fire District 7, which covers Ferndale, and the Bellingham fire department. The Bellingham fire department has provided the paramedics for all of Medic One’s units since Medic One was established in the 1970s.

The dispute compelled the Bellingham fire department to deny ALS training to five paramedics from Fire District 7 in preparation for staffing the fifth Medic One unit based in Ferndale. In 2005, voters approved a levy to fund paramedic 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, but District 7 officials said the agreement associated with the 2005 levy 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.

The Thursday, May 12, working group meeting will be held at 10 a.m. at the Whatcom County Courthouse, 311 Grand Avenue, Bellingham, in meeting room 513. Click here for a PDF of the agenda.