Fire Dept. Paramedics proposed for Assistant Chief duties

  • Tue Jun 17th, 2008 8:19pm
  • News

tFourth paramedic needed in any case, says Harris

The Fire Chief and his Commissioners have a full plate, as evidenced at the May 13 regular meeting: the Community Report, formalization of an employment policy, Deer Harbor station planning, the Assistant Chief position, additional paramedic/firefighter hiring, revision of the cross-training requirement, Strategic Plan review, vote for increase in commissioners, and front-desk duties, aside from their “regular” work of firefighting, emergency medical services, district operations and financial oversight.

After reporting on various activities, Chief Mike Harris, Finance Officer Rick Anda and Commissioners Clyde Duke and Harvey Olsan responded at length during the public comment session of the meeting. Commissioner Jim Coffin was not in attendance.

Budget Report

Finance Officer Rick Anda reviewed the budget, which showed over-budget expenses for refurbishing the Eastsound Station’s dorm rooms with new bedframes and mattresses, conference training and travel, the dept’s wellness program and $17,500 for repair of department apparatus involved in three vehicle accidents. Anda reported that $10,000 had been reimbursed from insurance. Anda explained that many of the overages were due to the timing of the expense billing. “We’re on track, even though it seems like we’re a little behind,” said Anda.

Anda pointed out that costs for off-island transport using the County Sheriff’s boat, the Guardian, has increased with a fuel surcharge, and while the $500 budgeted this year for use of the Guardian has been adequate in the past, it has been used six times this year to date, at a cost of $450 per occasion.

The budget review indicated that the Fire Department has spent $25,000 less than at this time last year, and taken in $54,000 more in revenue, “So we’re about $75,000 ahead of last year,” Anda reported. The Board approved the budget.

Chief’s report

Chief Harris noted that Leslie Seaman, Orcas Island Grange Master, had requested a permanent loan of 36 old Fire Department chairs that are in storage at the Eastsound station. It was decided to redirect the letter to the Volunteers’ Association, as the chairs belong to them.

Harris also gave on update on the progress of the Report to the Community. After saying that he had not made an annual report since being hired in 2004, the project had morphed to the Community Report, to include cross-training and other issues. Public Information Officer Max Jones had undertaken the project, with Commissioner Jim Coffin editing the report. Now, with Jones attending EMT school in California and Coffin busy with family business, the report has revolved back to Harris, and he intends to have it finished by the end of the month.

Deer Harbor Station

Planning for the Deer Harbor station will be the focus of the May 27 Fire Commission meeting at Deer Harbor. Harris said that a search for other properties had “determined that neither [properties proposed by Michael Durland and Bob Conner] is a better piece than where we’re at now.” Harris reiterated the three main community concerns: the footprint size of the proposed building; the 26-foot peak height; and the appearance of the building.

Initial plans called for a second floor dormitory of 800-plus square feet over the first floor meeting room.

Harris asked if the board would authorize him to approve the architect to design the building both as a single story, and as a two-story building with all infrastructure in place. Olsan emphasized that the infrastructure should be complete so that build-out to a second story would be cost-effective.

Strategic Plan review

Harris reviewed the April 29 Strategic Plan Review when six members of the three original committees (communications, fire and emergency medical services) were in attendance, including current Commissioner Jim Coffin and Board secretary April Duke. Harris said the main issue was revision of the cross-training requirement, with “stipulations in the fire and EMS plans to remove the requirement for EMS personnel to also be firefighters and to cross train. That has yet to go through the approval process, including a survey that had gone out to the volunteers association to gain their opinion. If the response is a mixed bag, we’ll need to have a meeting to discuss the cross training issue,” Harris said. “Another issue is that [the revision] doesn’t remove the cross-training requirement for firefighters…. although “the vast majority of firefighter have already cross-trained to EMS.”

The volunteer association has been asked to select four additional members to join the review committee, and six people had expressed an interest in serving on the Strategic Plan review committee. There is no future date set for the plan review committee to meet.

Employment policy

Following the board’s formalization of an Assistant Battalion Chief position without having posted it, the public expressed their concerns that there should be a formal hiring process, Harris said. The current draft employment policy, described by Harris as “a work in progress,” is based on the school district and county hiring policies. Harris said that other fire district policies have also been consulted.

The draft has been discussed at Commission meetings since March, with changes from the public and the volunteers incorporated, said Harris.

School policy advises that when a job description is modified, the union should be consulted for input as well as to solicit their interest in open positions. Harris said that the Fire District has been approached by the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 3911, (the three Orcas Island paramedics), to enter collective bargaining for their 2009-2011 contract.

A copy of their proposal was read into the record by Lieutenant Paramedic Mik Preysz. The plan suggests that the Assistant Chief duties be divided into Operations, Training and Education and Human Resources. In order to take on these duties without adding to their hours, the union further suggested that a fourth paramedic be hired to relieve the current paramedics, who divide the 24/7 shift among them, with a base salary of $64,095 for each position.

When John Erly interjected to explain that the union “is only the paramedics, not firefighters or volunteers,” Duke replied, “This is strictly discussion, nothing is happening tonight.”

Preysz said that the paramedics felt that, with their previous experience, the resignation [of the Assistant Battalion Chief] and their experience working with the Orcas Fire Department, they would “do a pretty good job” if they were to take on the responsibilities of assisting the chief and the commission.

Olsan asked how their proposal fit in with the draft employment policy. Harris said that there were three aspects to the situation: what the department should do for the rest of the year, what should be next year, and “in addition to all that we have the new paramedic contract on the table. Currently, Harris said, the district paramedics are being paid “quite a bit of overtime” and that “sooner or later, a fourth paramedic would be required, as a natural evolution of the system.”

“I’m pretty excited to look to Veteran career members with new responsibilities and new leadership in the dept. One of the things that caused hubbub in the community was that there wasn’t an opportunity for members to rise to that level… at least one member of the fire medics come to me and said, ‘I didn’t get a chance to put my hat in the ring for that.’ This is the appropriate time and place…while we’re looking at these new job descriptions. In addition to the fire medics, if there are people in the department who feel that want to be involved in the creation of this or feel they have skills and abilities to bring to the Department, now’s the time.

“This has the potential to be a huge silver lining to benefit both sides.”

Duke added “there is a sense of urgency to facilitate the district’s needs.”

Harris said the next step would be to “bargain formally and flesh out the details based on the job descriptions we have now.”

Board of Commissioners

Since consideration of adding two members to the Board of Commissioners was brought up at the April 29 Plan Review meeting, Commissioner Clyde Duke said that he had looked at state laws and would bring his research forward to the next meeting, “to see what it would entail.”

Harris said all information needed to be in to the county Elections Department by July 12 if they were to bring the issue to a vote in November.

In discussion, Commissioner Harvey Olsan said that the suggestion “came out of the blue at the planning meeting… a lot of shrugging shoulders… I think there was a lot of reservation on a lot of members’ part.”

Duke said that he felt the consensus at the April 29 meeting was that the issue should go out for a ballot, and asked Harris’ opinion.

Harris said “It’s very difficult [for the commission] to deliberate on any one issue because you can’t talk to another commissioner directly, on a 5-person system you could talk one-on-one with any other commissioner without violating the rules.”

Public Comment

Former Commissioner John Erly objected to a five-member commission, saying “I think it’s a back door way for the commissioners to meet secretly.”

He suggested that the civil service hiring policy should be considered as a model for the Fire Department’s hiring policy.

Pierrette Guimond thanked Rick Anda and Chad Kimple for providing detailed information and handed out comments and questions from her review of the Commissioner Meeting minutes since October 2006 and asked the Commissioners to respond to her questions.

She noted that the Fire District has discussed hiring an administrative assistant or office manager since Maureen Hansen resigned in June, 2007.

Leith Templin suggested that if consideration were given to having an additional paramedic at “$70,000 wage plus benefits,” while one of the union paramedics takes on the Education Aspect of the Assistant Chief’s job, that the Public Information Officer’s job be eliminated, because it would be “obviously very expensive to the district.”

Department volunteer Bob Phalan stated that the proposal by the union paramedics would be “an incredible deal for this community. We need a fourth paramedic…. a medic who is doing administrative stuff can act as a second medic if we had a call.”

Larry McNair said that with the size of the department’s budget [$1,598,000] and the amount that is going to employment [$797,000] he was amazed that the Fire Chief had not completed an annual report since he was hired in 2005.

In response to questions by McNair about department calls, Harris said that in three years the District had responded to six structure fires, of which two burned to the ground and one was saved, and the other three were electrical or chimney fires. McNair questioned the number of fire engine apparatus used by the department and said, “I’m surprised at the equipment I see.”

Volunteer minute-taker April Duke commented that the public saves money through their homeowner’s insurance because of the district’s insurance ratings.

Templin agreed with McNair, saying that “it’s like there’s this endless checkbook, and what level is enough, how much equipment do we have to have? How much further are we going to and how much will it cost us?”

Duke replied “this has to do with where we’re going with the Strategic Plan.”

Errol Speed said that the Board’s policies don’t appear to have any continuity. He cited the Strategic Plan review, the purchase of fire engines, combatting wildland fires and evacuating people, the proposal to increase the Board of Commissioners to five members as examples.

Templin said that although it may be difficult for a three-man board to function, “I don’t have the confidence to support a five-member board, whereas I always have in the past, and that’s sad for me.”

Speed also questioned why the district was “pushing for a full-on station in 2008” and why the size had increased from 2,800 square feet to 3,800 between December 2006 and April 2008.”

The next Fire Commission meeting will be at the Deer Harbor Community Center on May 27 at 7:30 p.m.