Bellingham council delays vote on Medic One deal with county

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDDecember 10, 2013 

Whatcom Medic One

Joe Bertels, a paramedic with Whatcom Medic One, wheels a gurney into Sea Mar Community Health Center during a response on March 9, 2012 in Bellingham.

COLIN DILTZ — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

BELLINGHAM - City Council members want more assurances that the level of emergency medical services for Bellingham residents won't be reduced under the terms of a new Whatcom Medic One pact with Whatcom County.

At a Monday, Dec. 9, committee session, council agreed to postpone a vote on the pact until they can get a more thorough briefing on its provisions.

Whatcom County Council members decided in 2010 that they were dissatisfied with the longstanding agreement between city and county that set up a countywide system relying on city paramedics and ambulances. Efforts to craft a replacement deal while controlling costs have been ongoing since then.

The deal now facing scrutiny by both county and city councils would give the Whatcom County Executive the administrative authority over the countywide program, while the city agrees to provide three ambulances and one supervisor "chase car" to cover emergencies inside and outside city limits.

Fire District 7 in Ferndale is expected to provide a fourth medic unit for countywide use.

The county would pay the city about $4.6 million for EMS service in 2014, rising to a little less than $5 million for 2016.

Council member Terry Bornemann asked Bellingham Fire Chief Roger Christensen to reassure him that the new deal would not result in reduced EMS service inside the city limits.

"I don't anticipate any change," Christensen said.

"You didn't answer my question," Bornemann replied.

"It's not going to change anything immediately," Christensen said.

"Then I can't vote for it," Bornemann replied.

Other council members then agreed to schedule a more detailed briefing on the deal at their next meeting scheduled for Dec. 16.

After the meeting, Christensen said the system for overseeing EMS units and where they are stationed would not change significantly under the proposed new city-county pact, despite a change in the structure of advisory boards that oversee EMS services.

Under both the current and the proposed system, advisory boards with city representatives may make recommendations for changes in how EMS services are deployed, but any change affecting the level of service in the city would be subject to negotiation and could not be made without city approval.

The new deal between city, county and the Ferndale fire district is needed soon because the current arrangement expires on Dec. 31, Christensen told the council.

Whatcom County Council will consider the agreement Tuesday, Dec. 10.

Reach John Stark at 360-715-2274 or john.stark@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics Blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldpolitics.

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