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Scott Brennan: Leadership within the SJC Fire Dept.

  • Written by Scott Brennan

I was a Sergeant with your Sheriffs Department for 30 years and a volunteer EMT with the San EMS for 15 years. During that time I regularly interacted with the Fire Department, EMS and various other departments and agencies. Because of this experience people have asked me what’s going on with the current Fire and EMS issue. So, here’s my take, based on 30 plus years, dealing with these types of departments.

Every department or agency has a chief and they come in three basic types. You have the ‘average person' who runs the department and maintains the status quo. They are not really good or bad, they just keep things running.

Then you have the ‘community oriented’ chief. Their number one goal is to give their community the best service they can get for their tax dollar. They make sure their employees have the equipment and training they need to give the community the care it needs and deserves. Former San Juan Aid Chief Frank Wilson is an example of this type of Chief. Under Frank our little Aid Unit had the best ‘cardiac save rate’ in the entire country. Morale was always high, response times were great and you usually had to tell the EMT’s to stop coming, because there was too many at the scene. Frank never asked for recognition, fancy uniforms or vehicles and only asked the taxpayers for the money needed to maintain this level of excellence.

Then you have ‘empire builders’. These Chiefs always come from some outside agency or department. They arrive and immediately start building their ‘empire’. They want new fancy equipment, more employees, fancy uniforms, recognition and power. This makes them more important, feeds their egos, raises their salaries and looks good on their resume when they inevitably take a job at another ‘bigger, better’ department.

Aid Chief Jim Cole was an ‘empire builder’. He wanted to up his call volume, so he started ‘splitting’ calls. Under Chief Frank Wilson if you had to be taken to the hospital Aid would stand by in case you needed to go to the airport for Medflight. Under a Jim Cole, as soon as you dropped off the patient the ‘call’ was over and you went back to the Aid building. If the patient needed further transport it was a ‘second call’, which pushed Aids ‘call volume’ way up, justifying more money, equipment, personnel, all on the taxpayer’s dime. He wanted a new, bigger, million dollar Aid building, more ambulances and fancier equipment. He didn’t care if the community ‘needed’ it, his ego and resume did. After digging Aid into a giant financial hole, with questionable billing and other problems, he took his ego and resume and went off to another department, leaving us with the problems and debt.

And now we have Norvin Collins. Norvin showed up and immediately started sending a fire engine and firefighters on all the Aid calls. When locals started asking why a 40 foot fire engine was blocking Spring St. for a lady with a twisted ankle, Norvin said, “Fire has always responded with Aid.“ After 30 years with the Sheriff’s Office and Aid, I know this completely untrue. Anyone who has lived here for more than 5 years knows this is untrue. It is just Norvin upping his call volume and trying to get involved in the Aid chain of command. After that started happening Norvin began telling people that Aid units are under Fire command everywhere else, so they should merge with Fire here and he should be in charge, even though he had been here a very short time. Apparently he knows better than all of us who have lived here for years how to run things.

Norvin wants to spend your taxpayer dollars on two brand new Fireboats. We already have an excellent multi-agency boat. It is designed so the Sheriff’s Office can use it for rescue work or prisoner transports. It is set up for Aid to use it for patients. However, it is really set up to be Fireboat, with multiple water cannons and other firefighting apparatus. Unfortunately, Norvin damaged the boat and then screwed up relations with the Sheriffs Office so bad he is not allowed to use the boat anymore. The man who claims he will integrate Aid with Fire and bring them together, can’t bring himself to apologize and fix things with the Sheriffs Office, so he wants you to buy him two new boats instead.

There was a study before Norvin arrived, about bringing Fire and Aid back together. There were lots of conditions necessary for it to work. After some thought it was put on hold. Then it got put on the recent ballot. The people of San Juan Island looked at the information and said ‘No thanks. We’ll keep things the way they are.’ Friends on the Fire Department said Norvin was livid.

...and now Norvin is running a campaign to defund the Aid Unit. Apparently the Aid Unit that has taken excellence care of you for thirty years is actually inefficient, slow, too expensive and poorly managed. Norvin seems to like ‘apples and oranges’ comparisons. He talks about the Aid Units response time to the scene of '20 minutes' which is actually much less most of the time and then compares it to Fires ‘90 second mobilization time’. ‘Mobilization‘ means the firefighters went downstairs got in the fire engine and started it up and then still have to drive to the scene just like the Aid Unit.

Scott Brennan