Letter: Fire commissioner should hit the ground running

Editor,

Savannah Erickson announced her candidacy for the upcoming election for South Whidbey Fire/EMS commissioner. Now is the time for the citizens of South Whidbey to consider the future of the department. Decisions taken in the next few months will impact the department for many years.

I too am running for this position. I have lived on South Whidbey since 1980. Our daughters attended school here. My wife and I have lived in our home for 36 years. I am a professional engineer. My career has given me extensive experience with budgeting and managing projects. I am currently a part owner and board member of Elliott Bay Design Group. I well understand the role of the board. I have been a 35-year volunteer firefighter with South Whidbey Fire/EMS, retiring as a captain

Recent years have seen tremendous change. The department, previously all volunteer, successfully launched a paid-on-call firefighter program with eight paid firefighters providing work week daytime coverage. This program has been expanded to twelve firefighters providing initial response from Bayview.

It is time to take stock, consolidate the gains and deal with issues that have arisen. The volunteer program should be restocked and reinvigorated. Today SWF/E has 31 volunteers, the lowest number for many years. Reasons for volunteers leaving are many, including nine active volunteers who moved to the paid program. Recruiting volunteers has not been the core issue, retention has.

Today four paid firefighter/EMTs are on shift relying on volunteers and off-shift paid personnel to round out the response for major incidents. Staffing more stations with full-time staff helps, but at a considerable cost. Paid and volunteer programs need to co-exist for the immediate future. Population density is too low to support an all-paid department today. Future population increases may mandate it. We are not there yet.

If elected I would work toward (1) Rebuilding of the volunteer program keeping all six stations open; (2) Retention of our paid firefighting staff, providing a clear internal path to advancement; (3) Improving service with carefully planned budget increases; (4) Providing a pleasant working environment for all members.

It is vital that the next commissioner for South Whidbey Fire/EMS can hit the ground running and is neither facing a learning curve nor relying on the judgement of others to assess the situation. I have the knowledge to work for effective change and ask for your vote.

Jim Towers

Langley

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