Orcas shared battalion chief position clarified | Guest Opinion

I submit this article to clarify the job proposal, sharing the duties of the vacant battalion chief position, being made by the three OIFD Fire/Medics, Lieutenants Val Harris, Patrick Shepler, and Mik Preysz. Plainly put, if these staff duties are not performed, the line cannot go on a call and the fire department cannot function as an emergency service.

The proposal is that Patrick Shepler become training officer, Val Harris become operations officer, and Mik Preysz become health, safety, and compliance officer. These duties would be in addition to their paramedic duties. They propose hiring a fourth paramedic in order to stay within their current 56 hour work week and be freed for additional administrative duties.

Our fifty volunteers are held to the same performance standards, and are exposed to the same risks as our three paid, full-time firefighter paramedics. To support our volunteer organization, on our relatively isolated island, a substantial support basis is needed to insure that the volunteers are kept trained, safe, healthy, and properly equipped.

Training: Keeping this in mind, there are two crucial differences between our department and a department in a busy urban area. First, our volunteers all have day jobs, and their primary task is to put food on the family table. The paid staff in an urban department is able to focus totally on fire and EMS response. Second, in a busy urban area, after initial training as EMTs and fire fighters, individuals go out in the field, constantly being exposed to a wide variety of emergencies, insuring that their on-the-job training is intense and broad. In contrast, our volunteers are called to far fewer emergencies, so intense, on-the-job training is not possible. On our island, it is critical that training fill in where experience is unavailable.

Keep in mind, the emergencies that do occur can be as complex and deadly as those in an urban environment. Further, our volunteers are constantly trained for the kinds of emergencies that, we pray, will not happen, such as a huge wildland fire or a large mass casualty incident.

Operations involves dealing with all fire, EMS, and rescue equipment. (Few words here, but if you ask for a tour of Station 21, paying attention to the fire trucks and aide vehicles, inside and out, you might grasp the size of this job.)

Health, safety, and compliance involve making sure the volunteers are able to stand up to the physical and psychological demands on-scene, that safety standards are observed, and that the department is in compliance with the alphabet soup of federal, state, and local mandates, without which the department would lose its potential federal and state grant funding and would expose the department, the volunteers, and the community to major liability.

I support this proposal because it makes sense that the three individuals, Patrick, Mik and Val, who are constantly involved with the training, equipment, health and safety activities of the department, know best how to implement and supervise these activities. I think they know the buck stops with each one of them. I think the duties involved are too much for just one person.

Jessica Giasullo is the former editor of the Fire Department newsletter, a past member of the Fire Department’s EMS training class, and is married to an OIFD volunteer.