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Columbia/Walla Walla County Fire District 2 Commissioners renew response contract

At the November meeting the Board of Commissioners voted to renew a response contract, will review at six months


November 12, 2020

WAITSBURG-Columbia/Walla Walla County Fire District 2 recently reviewed an Emergency Medical First Response Contract to decide whether the fire district would renew the agreement with Columbia County Fire District 3. The current contract expires on December 31, 2020.

Columbia/Walla Walla County Fire District 2 (CWWFD2) is based in Waitsburg and covers Waitsburg-area 9-1-1 calls. Most of the area District 2 covers is in Walla Walla County, however, a portion of the district north of Waitsburg and a small portion to the east of Waitsburg fall in Columbia County. The District's boundaries extend to Lewis Peak Road at the top of Minnick Hill to the county line at Whoopem Up Hollow, McKay-Alto Road, and Mill Race Road. The District responds to calls that stretch onto Lower Hogeye Road and provides aid to the Department of Natural Resource (DNR) for calls originating from Whiskey Creek and parts of Jasper Mountain.

Columbia County Fire District 3 covers an area that stretches from the Walla Walla County line, out to Turner Road, and a section north of Highway 12 that gives way to Garfield County. CCFD3 also covers the City of Dayton. CCFD3 provided immediate response to calls from the City of Waitsburg, and for a portion of land in the southern section of CWWCF2 boundaries.

Chief Michael Moynihan initially urged the board to not renew the contract with CCFD3. According to Moynihan, CCFD3 assisted with a total of 44 calls within the D2 boundaries in 2020. He estimated that each response, based on the contract's agreed upon $70,000 (paid to CCFD3), cost $1,600. Moynihan estimated that CCFD3 ambulance bills (charged to the transported patient) average $600-$800.

Both CWWCFD2 and CCFD3 are Basic Life Support ambulance services. Basic Life Support (BLS) services are manned by two emergency medical technicians (EMT) who are able to provide basic, stabilizing care for patients.

"I would like to go with an ALS model versus a BLS model," Moynihan said. "I'd really like to see both respond."

Moynihan explained that he would like to move to an ALS response to help prevent delays in care and have life-saving measures readily available. However, he noted the importance of a good BLS response and the difference that BLS care can make in emergency situations.

Advanced Life Support (ALS) services offer advanced medical response, which are often life-saving measures, like intubation, injections, and esophageal-tracheal tubes. Ambulances with ALS crews often have advanced cardiac monitors, and responders are trained in airway control, pharmacology, and acute coronary symptoms, among other things. ALS services include a paramedic. Paramedics go through roughly ten times more training than an EMT.

Chief Moynihan leaned towards a contract with an ambulance service based in Walla Walla, with Commissioner Randy Charles adding that a Walla Walla ambulance often responds to Waitsburg calls already. At the time of the meeting, Chief Moynihan did not have a written contract proposal from an ALS service to replace the CCFD3 response contract.

Chief Moynihan reported that he had spoken with the Chief at CCFD3, as well as one of their commissioners, and was told that CCFD3 would not cross county lines if the contract was discontinued. Moynihan expressed that, ideally, there would be both a BLS service and an ALS service response to a call. The fire district would be able to call off an ALS service if necessary, but Moynihan noted that an immediate ALS response only benefits patients.

Columbia County Emergency Management Director Ashley Strickland noted that, historically, D2 has had a hard time getting volunteers to respond to medical calls and recommended continuing the agreement with D3 until they are able to build their department. Moynihan said that there are five state-certified EMTs in D2, however, only one EMT that responds regularly.

District 2 had three volunteers step up since the previous meeting. The volunteers have applied and are waiting for acceptance to the EMT program at Walla Walla Community College. At the time of this meeting, none of the volunteers requested monetary sponsorship, however, Moynihan noted that he had discussed potential financial aid with Fortner.

Strickland argued that CWWCFD2 should renew the contract for another year and continue taking baby steps, like recruiting and training volunteers, to build a better fire department without exhausting the few responding EMTs that the district relies on. Strickland also contributed the recent influx of CWWCFD2 response to having a "shiny new chief" and suggested that EMT response would taper as responders got comfortable around CWWCFD2's new leader.

"We know for a fact, when scary runs come out, the EMTs you have don't respond," Strickland said, who then referred to a private conversation about a previous call in Huntsville. Moynihan expressed that he was unsure of how to respond to Strickland's comments.

Strickland also informed the commissioners that CCFD3 is a member of a fire union, as are Walla Walla districts. If two districts from the same union respond to a call, there is potential for legal action.

Commissioner Jake Long added that one advantage to the CCFD3 contract was a choice in medical facilities. If CCFD3 responds and transports a patient, they will go to the Columbia County Hospital. Ambulance services in Walla Walla can transport patients to designated Walla Walla medical facilities. Long said he did not feel comfortable changing the contract based solely on the short timeline.

Commissioner Deb Fortner had concerns with transport time for calls that originate on the boundaries of CWWCFD2 and stretch into Columbia County.

"When we back up and take the Google Earth view of our district, Walla Walla can be a long ways away," Fortner said. "I think we need to take some baby steps and dip our toe in the pool. Lets not 'cannon ball' yet.

Fortner asked that the district review ambulance run statistics, and explore aid response from surrounding districts, before canceling the contract with CCFD3.

Strickland eventually recommended that the commissioners speak with CCFD3 Chief Jeromy Phinney and see if a six-month evaluation would be possible. The current contract states that the agreement may be terminated with six months written notice. Fire commissioners were notably worried about time restraints for district budgets, both in Walla Walla and Columbia counties. Strickland's six month suggestion was met with a positive reaction, as it guaranteed a response from D3 while giving D2 a chance to prepare for a possible contract elsewhere. After nearly an hour of discussion, the board of commissioners voted to renew the Emergency Medical First Response agreement with CCFD3. The board of commissioners, as well as Chief Moynihan, will be gathering and reviewing data from previous contracts, and plan to assess the viability of the contract after six months.


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