Vashon deserves solid leadership to keep us safe and healthy

This week, The Beachcomber catches up with its coverage of goings-on at Vashon Island Fire & Rescue, now under the leadership of new fire chief Matt Vinci.

We’re impressed by Vinci’s leadership thus far, which began under difficult circumstances. From the start, though, he seems to have gotten down to business quickly.

Vinci has said his aim at VIFR is to organize and modernize its operations, making it a more efficient and effective organization — key goals we are sure islanders will support because having a functional, focused fire district is one of the wisest investments a community can make.

Vinci’s recent public appearances, including his eloquent speech at VIFR’s 9/11 candlelit memorial, seem so far to be striking the right tone with our community. Vinci seems to “get” Vashon on one of its most fundamental and geographical levels — our need to take care of each other.

As a demonstration of his awareness of this interdependence, Vinci also seems to truly have the backs of VIFR career staff and volunteers — the heroes who show up day after day to serve the people of Vashon in some of their most desperate hours.

We believe Vinci when he says that VIFR needs more career and volunteer firefighters, as many VIFR members have now been saying themselves for some time.

Our island, after all, receives no mutual aid from neighboring fire departments; we’re on our own, and what you see is what you get when times get tough.

We’ll continue to watch as Vinci finds his groove on Vashon. We hope for the best with his leadership because our first responders — and the islanders those responders serve — deserve that.

And speaking of leadership, well, that brings us to our other big story in this week’s paper.

There are still more developments in the saga of the breakup of Sea Mar and Vashon Health Care District (VHCD), with no resolution yet in sight.

Incredibly, we are now reporting a new twist in the drama: both entities say they are poised to purchase separate properties on Vashon on which they’ll both build new health care clinics.

What should have been a celebratory moment for islanders — VHCD’s purchase of a seemingly ideal spot to build a health clinic, at below-market value — has now turned confusing.

Sea Mar executives say they have always been clear with VHCD that it has been their goal to build their own clinic on Vashon, yet VHCD announced with fanfare only this summer their intention to own and be deeply involved in the build and design of their own new clinic — one that Sea Mar, presumably, would only operate.

At that time, the district’s administrator, Eric Jensen, said the district was engaged with Sea Mar on an ongoing, collaborative approach to designing and building the new Vashon clinic.

But knowing what we know now, that statement seems at best to have been wishful thinking.

It seems inconceivable that Vashon might actually wind up with two new health care centers, which is one more than our community needs. But that’s down the road, and we’re more concerned, right now, with what happens in the short term.

Our island’s most vulnerable citizens will be the ones left behind if there is any gap in providers at the Sunrise Ridge clinic, and the price will be unbearably high — cancer patients left with no local provider, children with no place to receive routine vaccinations, elderly folks who need to travel difficult distances for regular appointments, and an already understaffed fire district dealing with more islanders showing up the station to receive routine care.

Another outcome of all this is that tax-weary islanders could lose their faith in VHCD — a taxing agency established in 2019 with high voter approval.

The Beachcomber, perhaps, could have seen the Sea Mar/VHCD conflict coming if our own staffing shortage did not exist.

Local newspapers exist to closely watchdog the work of public servants and local taxing districts, and since 2020, The Beachcomber has been stretched too thin to cover every island agency. It seemed to us that our attention needed to be prioritized on our school and fire districts.

We wish VHCD commissioners would have reached out sooner to the local newspaper, to transparently let us know a story might be brewing. We, and our entire community, could have wrapped our heads around this much sooner.

Now, we’re playing catch-up with VHCD, like the rest of the community, and hoping against hope that the troubles between Sea Mar and VHCD can still be mediated and solved, quickly.