Opinion

VIFR sees the complexities of island medical response | Editorial

Islanders should pay close attention to possible changes coming at Vashon’s fire district, as they could affect who shows up at your door in an emergency.

Vashon Island Fire & Rescue (VIFR) is currently working with the county to examine its Medic One program, a tax-funded program that sends highly trained paramedics to the most serious medical emergencies on the island. Officials are considering folding Vashon’s program into south King County’s, meaning we would no longer have Vashon-only paramedics, but a rotating crew from south King County. Vashon could also get an additional paramedic or additional backup for paramedics.

All those involved in these discussions so far seem to have islanders’ best interests in mind. After all, this was a process started by VIFR. And it makes sense to take a second look at our emergency response system, to see if there’s now a better alternative to the status quo. We are concerned, however, that Vashon joining forces with south King County’s Medic One program could mean that in situations where a patient needs to take an ambulance on the ferry, both paramedics would accompany him or her — rather than just one — which is the traditional medic one way. This greatly benefits the patient being transported, but it presents a big challenge for Medic One, as officials do not want to leave the island without paramedic coverage for any length of time.

The county wants to provide Vashon with at least one backup paramedic, but it’s not sure if that paramedic would be stationed on Vashon 24-7 or would rush to the island should a major medical call come in. The situation is a good example of how tricky emergency response is on an island. Unlike towns on the mainland, Vashon doesn’t have mutual aid from neighboring communities — it takes a long time for backup responders to reach us in an emergency. And in medical emergencies, time is of the essence. It may not make financial sense to place a third paramedic on the island at all times, or even every time the other two leave on the ferry, but it could make a difference when it’s needed most.

We trust VIFR officials to know the complexities of emergency medical response on Vashon better than anyone, and they don’t want to see us without the best possible paramedic service. We’ll pay close attention to any proposal that comes out. Given what we know so far, there are some clear benefits to the idea, but we would like to see Vashon get better or at least equal coverage out of the deal as well.

 

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