Response to Fire Chief Norvin Collins

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

Posted on December 27, 2021 at 4:25 am by

Categories: Government, Health & Wellness, Letters, People, Safety


  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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By submitting a comment you grant the San Juan Update a perpetual license to reproduce your words and name/web site in attribution. Inappropriate, irrelevant and contentious comments may not be published at an admin's discretion. Your email is used for verification purposes only, it will never be shared.

Receive new post updates: Entries (RSS)
Receive followup comments updates: RSS 2.0
%d bloggers like this: