Fire commissioner candidates include Jan Milligan, top, Candy McCullough, bottom, and Andy Johnson.

Fire candidates, levy will be focus of Wednesday’s election-season forum

At the forum Wednesday evening, islanders will have a chance to ask questions of each of the candidates running for a seat on the fire board and to learn more about the proposed levy increase.

Islanders are encouraged to vote — and to attend the event at 7 p.m. Wednesday, at the Land Trust Building.

Each of the fire candidates provided information about their background, what they believe the priorities are for the fire board and how they think district leaders should show taxpayers they are getting the best value for their money.

Position One

Andy Johnson

Background: I began my career in the emergency services in 1987 as a volunteer firefighter/EMT for Thurston County Fire District #7. Later I worked for several private ambulance companies in Thurston County, Chicago and Seattle. In 1995 I was hired by King County Medic One as a paramedic and attended training through the University of Washington at Harborview Medical Center. I served as a paramedic with Medic One for the following 17 years. In 2012, I transferred to Vashon Island Fire & Rescue (VIFR) as a paramedic/firefighter. That position recently migrated back to the county, where I work today as a paramedic.

My work history has put me in a unique position to understand the varied operations andchallenges of VIFR. I have been in the shoes of both the volunteers and the career staff. I have worked as an EMT and a firefighter, and with departments both large and small. As VIFR expands to meet the needs of a growing population and increased demand, I am able to understand the impacts on, and the needs of, all of our personnel.

Priorities: The board has always had one primary mission: to ensure the department has the tools and personnel to deliver emergency services to the citizens of Vashon Island. Today, the largest barrier to that is the budget. Running a fire department is expensive and there are no shortcuts.

We must pass a new levy, and the board needs to see that the department spends that money wisely. While it might not be apparent to the average Vashon resident, the department is dangerously underfunded. To date, all calls to 911 have been managed without significant delays despite having a small career group and dwindling volunteer numbers. This success is thanks to a very dedicated staff, but also has much to do with luck. On too many occasions, if only one more call were placed to 911, there would be no one available to respond.

Since the last levy was passed 27 years ago, the volume of calls each year has increased from less than 700 to more than 1,600. We need more responders, both career and volunteer, to meet the demand. This will account for a large portion of the levy dollars. Those personnel will also need adequate equipment. The department’s equipment is currently in need of serious updates.

Best value/accountability: VIFR’s current chief, Charlie Krimmert, has done an amazing job of breaking down the department’s budget. As revenue is increased, the budget should be shown openly to the taxpayers. This can be done in periodic mailings and on an improved website that is easier to navigate and understand.

As always, success will be measured by results: the continued protection of the lives and property of our island neighbors.

Position Four

Candy McCullough

Background: Current President of the National Association of Elected Fire Officials. Nearly 40 years an emergency responder. More than 30 years VIFR volunteer responder, in-structor, leader and current commissioner. 27 years career firefighter, instructor, inspector and lieutenant for Boeing Fire Department. Regional VP and contract negotiator for International Association of Fire Fighters, local I-66. Two-term volunteer president for a large non-profit community organization. My competency grows through networking and continuing education with commissioners and chiefs nationally. We are formulating strategies to enhance services for those who call 911. I am a passionate, active community member and a committed advocate for Vashon Island Fire Rescue. I encourage local islanders to join us in protecting and serving the island.

Priorities: Life safety. The safety of our responders, citizens and visitors who call 911. Supporting Chief’s vision and plan to increase our coverage and abilities for simultaneous medical calls and other emergencies.

Over the past 25 years we have had a vast increase in calls for service, while our number of local volunteers has plummeted.

Financial stability — building a healthy future for VIFR. Our current expenses exceed our revenue.

Formalize a long-range strategic plan based on the detailed analysis Chief Krimmert is creating through his overview of the state of the district.

Best value/accountability: We need to intertwine into the daily life of the island. We need to be present at community events, regularly communicate all things about VIFR, invite islanders to join in and/or support the effort and continue to share fire department information with the newspaper editors, Voice of Vashon, citizen groups, etc.

I would like to include a Q&A session or have an open public conversation on a quarterly basis following a commissioner meeting and improve the VIFR website — post our budget, financial reports, meeting minutes, events, etc. Making the fire district a significant and important part of the island community is critical to our success. We need to become part of our locals’ lives and have them become part of ours.

Jan Milligan

Background: A commissioner needs to have a full understanding of all facets of the fire district: strategic, financial and operational and be proactive in supporting forward progress while conserving resources. My 35 years of successful executive-level leadership and administrative experience, largely with non- profits, and some with the public sector, make me well qualified to oversee all aspects of Vashon Island Fire & Rescue. I am an expert at involving the public in government decision-making, and am committed to restoring public input to Vashon fire.

My husband is a 31-year career firefighter and paramedic with the City of Bellevue, so I know the fire service and emergency medical field well from the perspective of a seasoned responder and union leader.

My community activities and services on Vashon are extensive: Director of Camp Sealth for 15 years; initiated new programs and environmental education there. Member and past president of Vashon Rotary, treasurer of Vashon Rotary Foundation, 10 years with VashonBePrepared (board of directors and volunteer coordinator for Emergency Operations Center), current manager of Vashon CERT—Community Emergency Response Team.

Priorities: Many aspects of leadership of the fire district have been neglected in the past several years. The strategic planning process was abandoned when it was needed most (at a time of chief transitions). The current year budget is using up over half the district’s reserves; this was an unfathomable move by the district that must be corrected immediately. Six pieces of real estate are several more than our district will ever need, and old vehicles should be sold.

All have inherent costs of ownership that are wasting resources. The commissioners must address these issues – all of them.

Best value/accountability: Chief Krim-mert has already proposed that the levy increase will allow the district to increase firefighter staffing and their ability to respond to simultaneous emergencies. He has also outlined that the increase will allow the district to begin replacing old vehicles. The commissioners now must go to work to assure that overhead, property ownership costs and administrative costs are streamlined so that the focus can be on public safety and fire/medical responses. This will involve taking a fresh look at property, administrative systems, insurance, the works … so that the direct services provided to citizens are getting the overwhelming majority of the funding.

The fire district must also level with its citizens that the four non-staffed fire stations scattered around Vashon and Maury no longer have a group of volunteers that work from those locations; that model has gradually gone away over the past decade or two. Whether failing to point this out was oversight or neglect no longer matters; the district needs to be straight with the citizens of Vashon.