News

Paramedic service stays with county

By ERICA HALL

The Mirror

King County Executive Ron Sims announced this week that paramedic service in the county's south end will continue to be provided by the county rather than handed off to local fire districts.

Federal Way Fire Department chief Al Church said local fire officials weren't surprised by Sims' decision.

After 18 months working on the feasibility study, the consultant hired to guide the process told the group "there's no compelling reason to migrate paramedic service at this time," Church said. "But it leaves the door open. It doesn't close the door to the future."

The study indicated the Federal Way and Kent fire districts could join forces to provide paramedic service from Renton and Tukwila south to the Pierce County line. The organizational structure would be similar to paramedic services in Seattle, Shoreline and on the Eastside.

But Sims decided against breaking off the county-provided service, saying King County Medic One provides excellent service and has been since 1979, operating seven paramedic units and treating more than 10,000 patients a year.

Medic One's operating budget for 2003 was almost $9 million, and the county budgeted $10 million for 2004.

There are 68 paramedics at Medic One, with eight in supervisory positions and 60 available for calls. Some are stationed at two Federal Way fire stations.

Whenever an emergency or accident happens in the city, dispatchers call out Federal Way firefighters and emergency medical technicians. If something very serious occurs, like a heart attack or major car crash, dispatchers also send out Medic One paramedics, who can start IV lines, use defibrillators or administer drugs.

While the emergency responders work together closely, they're administered by different agencies, receive separate paychecks and have different retirement plans.

Allowing Federal Way and Kent to assume jurisdiction of paramedic service would have put the medics under local administration. Federal Way Fire Department spokeswoman Monica Colby said residents wouldn't have seen a difference in emergency response, but personnel would have seen a change in their retirement packages (which caused some concern among their labor unions) and in job mobility.

Currently, Federal Way firefighters can't serve as paramedics because the agency doesn't provide paramedic service.

While the city won't get to take over paramedic service, the study provided Federal Way "a lot more input into how the program is run," Church said. And for citizens who might one day need to call 9-1-1, it will be "business as usual," he said.

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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