North County could lose paramedics if levy fails

From left, North County firefighter/EMT Kyle Fleischbein attaches electrodes to fellow firefighter/EMT Ian Phipps’ chest during a demonstration Aug. 4.  - Adam Rudnick
From left, North County firefighter/EMT Kyle Fleischbein attaches electrodes to fellow firefighter/EMT Ian Phipps’ chest during a demonstration Aug. 4.
— image credit: Adam Rudnick

ARLINGTON — The call came in just before 2 p.m.

Fire and emergency medical personnel, including North County Regional Fire Authority paramedic Brendon Booth, checked their pagers. An elderly man in Stanwood had been stung by a bee.

Booth and firefighter/emergency medical technician Kyle Fleischbein jumped into an ambulance, flicked on the siren and sped toward Interstate 5 from their north Arlington station.

While the call for medical care may sound innocuous, bee stings have a number of side effects, including heart problems.

“With a bee sting we usually check out the heart,” Booth said. “An EpiPen (allergy shot) was likely given to him, so they checked his heart, his blood pressure. Sometimes an EpiPen can cause heart problems.”

Being a paramedic or EMT means being ready for any type of emergency. But it’s all part of the job for members of North County — a joint association of five stations that cover the Arlington, Bryant, Grandview, Freeborn and Warm Beach areas.

North County officials are currently in the middle of soliciting public support for the authority’s upcoming emergency medical services levy renewal.

On Aug. 17, voters will determine whether to continue funding North County’s expiring levy beyond 2010.

The EMS levy pays for firefighter/paramedic wages, training, supplies, apparatuses and support vehicles — in other words, all the necessary items to cover one of the largest service areas for a fire district in Snohomish County, said North County Fire Chief Dale Fulfs.

If approved, the EMS levy would charge taxpayers 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to maintain the authority’s current level of service. That would amount to approximately $12.50 per month for the owner of a $300,000 home.

Not having that levy would mean the district would have substantially fewer paramedics to respond to the more serious calls for service, including heart attacks. That would leave only firefighters/EMTs — who can only offer basic types of treatment — to respond to all of the different types of emergency calls.

“If the levy doesn’t pass, we’d only be able to offer basic life support and have to transport patients (for more serious calls),” Fulfs said. “We don’t want to scare people, but it’s important that we have that ability.”

North County currently has nine paramedics on staff at its five stations, and usually has at least two paramedics on staff 24 hours a day.

Paramedics can administer sedatives, medication and IVs, assess heart and circulatory problems and utilize ventilators and other breathing equipment for patients.

Typically all paramedics are firefighters, but not firefighters are paramedics.

“We can actually treat heart attacks and open up arteries,” Booth said. “They may not solve the problem, but they will probably help.”

So far this year, more than 66 percent of all calls for service in North County’s jurisdiction have been EMS/rescue calls, with fire calls only making up 3.4 percent of the total call volume.

“We do so much more than fight fires,” Booth said.

When in between calls, North County firefighters and paramedics have been waving signs supporting the EMS levy in order to rally support for the measure.

Fulfs and other firefighters have also been door-belling, and fire officials have held two public meetings soliciting input from community members of the district.

Ballots for the EMS levy have been mailed out as part of the primary election ballot.

“We’re trying to get people out there and let people know how important this is,” Fulfs said, adding that he’s received a number of calls from taxpayers regarding the levy. “It’s not really anger, it’s more trying to clarify it to people.”

For more information about North County or to learn more about the levy, visit www.northcountyfireems.com.

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