Fire officials object to proposed ferry schedule

Ferry walk ons at Vashon (File Photo)

Ferry walk ons at Vashon (File Photo)

The Vashon fire district chief and commissioners have released separate public letters this week to Washington State Ferries, with one letter asking for improved service to the island and the other criticizing the proposed ferry schedule, saying it would increase challenges for the district and put the island at higher risk.

Chief Charlie Krimmert sent his letter to Washington State Ferries on Monday.

In it, he calls on the State to fully explore the proposed pendulum route, which its supporters say would provide service on a regularly defined, equally spaced basis.

“Aside from keeping the ‘draw bridge’ to our neighboring communities open, a greater number of closely and evenly planned departures and arrivals will strengthen our capability to save life and property,” Krimmert said in the letter.

He noted that with limited staff and only four ambulances, the speed of crews’ return affects the department’s ability to safeguard the island.

In a phone conversation, he said that while many people think of the need to get off the island in an emergency, that happens more easily than the responders’ return.

“There is no system to getting our people back,” he said. “That is really the unrecognized nuance and challenge for us operationally and for the community in terms of safety.”

In his letter, Krimmert also noted that many of the department’s staff and volunteers live off-island and that when they are caught in long ferry lines, which can extend a commute for hours, that is a problem as well. He called it an “unnecessary and unrecognized risk.”

“For the growing demand upon us and our essential engagement with the ferry system, we believe that a schedule that puts more boats at the Fauntleroy and Vashon docks more regularly throughout the day is a necessity,” he wrote.

The fire district commissioners have written a letter of their own, focusing on similar issues. Their letter calls out the two proposed evening runs to Fauntleroy via Southworth and the long gaps in ferry service that occur.

“The proposed schedule will most likely result in an increase in calling ferries back to Vashon (notably in the evening and nights) or requiring ferries to alter their routes directly to Fauntleroy, which will disrupt WSF’s schedule and further delay VIFR crews/rigs in returning to Vashon,” it states.

The letter says such a schedule will likely also cause delays for commuters as well.

Chair Brigitte Schran Brown noted that in some non-life threatening transports, crews would go to Southworth first on those sailings, keeping them off-island and unable to respond to a more urgent disaster for a longer period of time.

She also put in a plug for more on-island volunteers to assist the department, even though the staffing levels there have improved with the passage of the levy and other efforts.

She also stated that a change to the morning sailings from Fauntleroy falls right before shift change, creating repercussions at the district because most staff come from off-island and are expected to be at the station about 7:15 a.m. Most staff take the 6:50 a.m. sailing, which is slated for elimination. There is a sailing at 7:05 a.m., but that would get people there too late. Changing the fire district shift schedule, she said, would require a union vote.

Among the other points the commissioners’ letter makes are that Vashon Island Fire & Rescue relies nearly 100 percent on Washington State Ferries for emergency transports, that Vashon is a medically under served area with limited medical care on the island and that unlike other fire districts, no timely mutual aid from other departments exists.

The full text of both letters is below.

05 November 2018

An Open Letter to Washington State Ferries & Our Community

Re: The Proposed Ferry Schedule Changes

As one watches ambulances and fire trucks move about the community, it is easy to overlook a significant participant in the ever-growing number of our calls: the Washington State Ferry System. Emergency transportation off the Island has grown approximately 300% over the last thirteen years; ferries are essential components of emergency medical transports to area hospitals, and our dependence on them grows daily. Vashon Island Fire and Rescue regularly, often multiple times a day, will call upon the ferry system to assist us in providing time sensitive transport of sick and injured patients to surrounding emergency rooms and hospitals.

As our only “highway” on or off the Island, the engagement of ferries is foundational to our operations. Providing emergency care on the Island is much more complicated than just getting a patient to an emergency room. The system of holding ferries for emergency ambulance traffic works well, and we are grateful for it. However, beyond catching the next boat, whenever it might be, a system for the timely return of an ambulance back to the Island does not exist. While ambulances are on the mainland, Vashon’s Fire District continues to be dispatched. In fact, simultaneous calls are growing, making up approximately 15% of our call volume, with this year’s total already exceeding all of last year’s by 11%. With limited staff and only four ambulances, the speed of their return to the Island directly impacts our ability to safeguard the community.

Further contributing to the ferry schedules impact on the Fire District, almost all our first responders live or work off Island. We appreciate that career staff can preplan their arrival to work; however, having our larger corps of volunteer responders returning home from work or travels waiting one, two, three or four hours to get back on the Island is an unnecessary and unrecognized risk. Their ferry commute is impactful of getting first responders in fire trucks and ambulances. For the growing demand upon us and our essential engagement with the Ferry System, we believe a schedule that puts more boats at the Fauntleroy and Vashon docks more regularly throughout the day a necessity. The new draft schedule does not accomplish that goal. Proposed waits between departures as long as sixty-five minutes, plus the crossing time, I fear will become perilous for the Fire District specifically and the community generally.

As the new boat schedule for the Triangle Route is crafted, we urge the State to fully explore the possibilities of a full time “pendulum” route. We understand that a full-time pendulum could provide service at all three dock locations all day and into the evening on a regularly defined, equally spaced basis. Aside from keeping the “draw bridge” to our neighboring communities open, a greater number of closely and evenly planned departures and arrivals will strengthen our capability to save life and property.

We also believe all three of the Triangle Route communities will quickly reach consensus in support of this solution. Tell any commuter they can depend on a ferry every 30 to 35 minutes and they will be very pleased. Southworth and Vashon would have many more sailings, and they would be much more frequent. Fauntleroy residents would be relieved by a substantial reduction in congestion and the number of idling vehicles waiting outside their homes and alongside Fauntleroy Way Southwest & Lincoln Park.

We would be happy to assist the Washington State Ferry System in further studying full time pendulum options and expanding upon their support of our emergency services mission on Vashon Island.

Sincerely yours,

Charles H. Krimmert, Fire Chief Vashon Island Fire & Rescue

To: Washington State Ferries

From: Board of Fire Commissioners, Vashon Island Fire and Rescue (VIFR)

Re: Proposed changes to WSF Vashon/Fauntleroy/Southworth schedules

Mission Statement of VIFR:

VIFR is dedicated to the protection of life, property and our environment.

The WSF proposed schedule is unacceptable to VIFR in that it places our islanders, our island, and our staff at increased risk.

Summary of Concerns:

• The proposed schedule suggested by WSF exacerbates already existing challenges faced by VIFR to provide adequate protection to Vashon/Maury island (see Data In Fact). Adding additional evening triangulation to Southworth and expanding other gaps in sailings will result in additional hours of turn-around time for rigs/FF/EMTs and/or medics returning to Vashon.

The proposed schedule includes unacceptable Southworth triangulation not only during late night sailings, but adds 2 additional triangulations in the evenings and leaves large gaps in sailings from Vashon.

• The proposed schedule suggested by WSF also exacerbates the already existing challenge of shift change among VIFR crew members who largely commute to Vashon from off-island via the Fauntleroy-Vashon route.

• WSF is our sole link to the mainland. Airlift NW is a limited alternative as the helicopter often cannot fly due to inclement weather.

• The proposed schedule will most likely result in an increase in calling ferries back to Vashon (notably in the evenings or nights) or requiring ferries to alter their routes directly to Fauntleroy, which will disrupt WSF’s schedule and further delay VIFR crews/rigs in returning to Vashon.

Data in Fact:

• As outlined by its Mission Statement, VIFR is solely charged with the protection of Vashon/Maury Island’s residents, visitors, homes, business, properties, and beaches, forests/farms/wildlands.

• Vashon Island Fire and Rescue relies almost 100% on Washington State Ferries to assist in safely transporting patients to mainland hospitals.

• Vashon Maury Island has been declared a medically under-served community as there is limited advanced medical care available on the island.

• No timely mutual aid support exists for VIFR as is common in other Fire Districts.

• VIFR has limited resources and added transportation return delays leaves the island and its people vulnerable.

• WSF works closely with VIFR to ensure as rapid as possible transportation for ill/injured patients to the mainland using a category code system that holds ferries at the Fauntleroy or Tahlequah docks — or for more serious cases to be called to or back to — the Vashon docks if needed. In addition, WSF allows VIFR aid cars ‘front of the line privileges’; however there has never been a system by which returning FF/EMTs/Medics or Aid Cars can expedite the return to Vashon often leaving rigs and crews sitting on the Fauntleroy dock for up to 2-3 hours — hours in which these rigs and crews are unavailable to serve the island, leaving us inadequately protected.

The proposed schedule will most likely cause an increase in boats needing to be called back to Vashon—something which will further interrupt the schedule and causes longer delays not only for commuters, but for returning rigs and crews as well.

VIFR faces increasing multiple aid-call situations that send 2 or even 3 of our rigs/personnel off the island at once. This leaves Vashon/Maury Island almost unprotected in the event of a structure fire or mass casualty event.

VIFR pulls the vast majority of its staff—full, part-time, and volunteer— from off-island relying solely on WSF to transport them to the island on a daily commuting basis. Many of our employees and volunteers are already required to get up at 3-4 a.m. to make their VIFR shifts. The proposed schedule eliminates the morning run that allows in-coming crews to relieve crews finishing their 48 hour shifts in a timely manner resulting in costly overtime.

The WSF proposed schedule is unacceptable to VIFR in that it places our islanders, island and staff at a very real risk, and we sincerely hope that WSF will reconsider and rework the solutions to the Vashon/Fauntleroy/Southworth schedules.

Respectfully Submitted,

Vashon Island Fire and Rescue Board of Fire Commissioners:

Brigitte Schran Brown, M.Ed., EMT; Chair Candy McCullough, FF/EMT, Vice Chair;

David Hoffmann; Camille Staczek, RN, MSN; Andy Johnson, Paramedic

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