Letter to the editor: The true cost of reducing fire department staffing

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Editor:

This is the text of a letter I sent to the City Council members and the mayor in opposition to their proposal to reduce staffing at the fire department:

I retired to Edmonds in 2014 after working nearly 30 years as a paramedic and paramedic supervisor in a large urban and suburban system where staffing levels was a constant concern, therefore I can appreciate and understand the need for the monetary costs involved in maintaining appropriate staffing levels and I likewise know very well the feeling of treating multiple or critical patients with inadequate levels of readily available assistance. I have been the provider on the scene on more than one occasion where I had to wait for additional paramedics, ambulances or fire personnel to arrive to assist me with critical or multiple patients; time that those patients did not have to spare. When dealing with a person experiencing a stroke, heart attack, severe allergic reaction, compromised airway or cardiac arrest, time is often the difference between their life and death. Having to wait for sufficient help to arrive from farther away decreases the likelihood of them having a favorable outcome. And having to triage multiple patients and force some to wait until more help arrives is not something I would wish on anyone. I’ve done it, and it’s even worse knowing it could have been prevented with adequate staffing.

Critical patients require several providers in order to receive optimal medical treatment. A paramedic ambulance is far more than a ride to the hospital. It brings the hospital to the patient. The number of medications, procedures, interventions and treatments provided by paramedics is far more extensive than most people know. To properly perform them in a timely manner requires the teamwork of several people. One patient in critical condition takes several providers to manage. A city the size, density and demographic makeup of Edmonds can easily mean at any given time that several people in the district may experience critical medical emergencies during the same time frame, taxing even a fully staffed fire and EMS department, let alone one that is staffed to lower levels. Multiple casualty incidents likewise require multiple trained personnel to adequately manage, and the regular call load of the Fire Department does not take a break during these incidents. The number of critical tasks and decisions that must be made during complex incidents does not decrease when you have fewer people to perform them, it requires the people you have to take on more when they are already taxed with their regular load.

Reducing the fire department’s staffing in Edmonds will not come without a cost. At its very core, it means staffing for the lightest possible call load and hoping for the best while being unprepared for the worst. It means having to tell someone their loved one might have had more of a chance had someone else not called 911 before them. It means fewer providers on site to manage a complex patient or scene, which can lead to mistakes. It means additional wear and tear on vehicles having to drive more often for longer distances to reach scenes. It means increased workload, stress, and exhaustion for providers asked to do more with less. It exposes firefighters to more risk by forcing them to do the same job with fewer resources and manpower. And it means the Edmonds community must settle for a level of safety and security which is not appropriate for its needs.

As a taxpayer residing in Edmonds, I have a vested interest in reducing costs and expenses within the city. But this is not the way to do it, and these are costs which I am not only happy but proud to pay. Because not only are the consequences of not paying them too high, ensuring appropriate medical and fire protection services is one of the most critical responsibilities of the community and one that Edmonds does better at than most other communities in the entire United States.

Sincerely,

Leigh R Hennig
CCEMT-P (Retired)

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