Response to Fire Chief Norvin Collins

Posted December 27, 2021 at 4:25 am by

In the Mail­bag today we have this let­ter from Nathan But­ler, Super­in­ten­dent and EMS Administrator…

We have seen the recent let­ter from Fire Chief Norvin Collins regard­ing our agency and merg­er talks. He bad­ly mis­rep­re­sent­ed our agency, and his let­ter is an object les­son in why we have opt­ed not to try again at merg­ing EMS with Fire fol­low­ing the unsuc­cess­ful Novem­ber attempt. Our com­mu­ni­ty can­not afford to have the high-qual­i­ty EMS ser­vice built up over years be dis­man­tled by some­one who is fun­da­men­tal­ly hos­tile towards San Juan Island EMS.

We would like to reas­sure the pub­lic that we will be there for you when you need us. Our aver­age response time for the entire island is well under ten min­utes, while response times in town are about six min­utes. This includes the time it takes to do a safe­ty check and leave the sta­tion. Our crews con­sis­tent­ly score high­ly in anony­mous sur­veys as com­pas­sion­ate, effec­tive, and respon­sive. We work effec­tive­ly with the Sheriff’s office to serve the out­er islands, as well as our medi­vac partners.

As we enter the new year, we believe the pub­lic has every rea­son to be proud of the Emer­gency Med­ical Ser­vices that they have spon­sored over more than two decades under San Juan Coun­ty Pub­lic Hos­pi­tal Dis­trict No. 1. We are proud to serve you and will con­tin­ue to do so with excellence.

Mem­bers of the pub­lic who want infor­ma­tion about the renew­al of the EMS levy under the hos­pi­tal dis­trict in Feb­ru­ary 2022 can go to, and are always wel­come to con­tact our com­mis­sion­ers or lead­er­ship with any ques­tions they may have (see

Nathan Butler
Super­in­ten­dent and EMS Administrator

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  1. The fact that an unelect­ed employ­ee of the PHD has writ­ten this per­son­al attack on anoth­er gov­ern­men­tal agency and its per­son­nel is out­ra­geous. The inte­gra­tion of Fire and EMS is not about super­in­ten­dent Nathan But­ler and what he per­ceives as an insult. It is not about indi­vid­ual per­son­al­i­ty issues. What is IS about is what’s best for the cit­i­zens of PHD’s dis­trict; yes, those peo­ple who vot­ed for the PHD board mem­bers (not the appoint­ed super­in­ten­dent) to do what’s best for the whole com­mu­ni­ty. Just 3 months ago, the PHD wrote a Mem­o­ran­dum of Under­stand­ing in which they state that “a con­sol­i­dat­ed Fire and EMS ser­vice by a sin­gle agency…is in the best inter­est of the cit­i­zens”. They also state that “inte­grat­ing the two sys­tems into one agency max­i­mizes the abil­i­ty to pro­vide emer­gency ser­vices” and that inte­gra­tion “will be of sub­stan­tial ben­e­fit to the pub­lic, staff and vol­un­teers”. How was this true 3 months ago but now the PHDs employ­ee is stat­ing that they have no inten­tion of doing what numer­ous com­mit­tees, the year-long Cit­i­zens Advi­so­ry Group (CAG) and the major­i­ty of cit­i­zens have said they want. Are PHD board mem­bers mak­ing deci­sions — or are they allow­ing their employ­ee to do that for them? Know the facts before you vote.

    Comment by Rebecca K. Smith on December 27, 2021 at 6:16 pm
  2. One learns ear­ly in sys­tems analy­sis that the pri­ma­ry focus of an orga­ni­za­tion­al sys­tem is self-preser­va­tion. This tit for tat mud­sling­ing and selec­tive use of sta­tis­tics is not in the pub­lic inter­est. The com­bi­na­tion of Fire and EMS is essen­tial and should cer­tain­ly reduce the tax bur­den for rea­son­ably good ser­vices here. The con­tin­u­ing inabil­i­ty to resolve key issues has tak­en the fun out of dys­func­tion in our fish­bowl. Sure­ly the Coun­ty Coun­cil must step in to force medi­a­tion and nego­ti­a­tion to serve the pub­lic’s best inter­ests. Is this real­ly so damned difficult?

    Comment by Steve Ulvi on December 28, 2021 at 9:55 am
  3. PHD Super­in­ten­dent: It looks like you are includ­ing trans­port calls from the EMS build­ing to the hos­pi­tal or heli­pad right next door? I hope not, as the state audi­tor has for­mal­ly told you to not include trans­ports when you report your emer­gency response times. Trans­ports don’t count as emer­gency respons­es and they rep­re­sent about 30+% of your calls. Response time means the time from page to when you arrive on scene, and I can’t make your num­bers align with what I’m see­ing in the field. Hav­ing worked for EMS and Fire, I can say there is no way you can reach a scene at the Cape or the north end—and a sig­nif­i­cant minor­i­ty of our calls come from Roche Harbor—from the sta­tion in under 10 minutes.
    And the PHD does­n’t have a marine pro­gram and nev­er has. EMS made 13 trips to out­er islands in 2021 and you got there via Fire or Sher­iff staffed and main­tained ves­sels at no cost to the PHD, even when you bill patients and insur­ance for those calls. Call them what they are, which is out­er island calls, not marine respons­es, and be truth­ful to vot­ers that you can’t pro­vide this ser­vice with­out inter-agency coop­er­a­tion. Marine pro­grams are hard to run and the PHD has­n’t put in any of the work or mon­ey to do so.
    Be hon­est in your dia­log please; blow­ing smoke around response times, marine ser­vices, costs, etc. is disin­gen­u­ous, at best. Lack of trans­paren­cy is one of the rea­sons that most of the vol­un­teer first respon­ders in the dis­trict, self includ­ed, don’t work for you anymore.

    Comment by Adam Greene on January 1, 2022 at 5:28 pm

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