Lewis County Medic One has voted to eliminate the position held by former Operations Chief Grant Wiltbank in a move officials said will help them restructure the struggling agency.
Approved unanimously by the Medic One Board of Directors during their regular meeting on Feb. 17, the position of operations chief, as well as director of Medic One, as the position was once known, was eliminated effective immediately, with members of the board, as well as the positions of business manager and employee supervisor, expected to assume the responsibilities once delegated to operations chief.
Wiltbank's continued role as operations chief had been challenged since October when Medic One's employees' union submitted a letter to the board detailing a vote of no confidence in Wiltbank, while local fire districts contracting for services with Medic One also sent a letter last month calling for the position to be eliminated, claiming it was unnecessary to agency operations and its elimination would reduce expenditures (Wiltbank's position had been earning a $750-per-month stipend).
After having voted to eliminate the position Tuesday night, Board Member Grant Kistler, representing Lewis County Fire District 15, in Winlock, stated the board had not taken the letters from the union or the contract districts into consideration when making their decision, but said eliminating the position was instead a matter of reorganizing how the agency works. Officials have been faced with the need to re-tool Medic One in recent years as expenses have outpaced revenues, with a projection this year of nearly $270,000 in deficits if revenue policies do not change.
It was this projected shortfall, a large part of which is due to a loss of business from Napavine's Lewis County Fire District 5, that prompted members of the union to cast their vote of no confidence in Wiltbank, explaining in their letter they felt he had not been exploring enough options for alternative revenue sources and had failed to foster cooperation among the districts served my Medic One, leading to District 5's departure.
Wiltbank has defended his record by stating his goal as operations chief had been to make decisions by achieving consensus among district leaders and said conversations with District 5 prior to their departure were simply frank discussions of what it was going to take to provide them with paramedic services, not an effort to alienate them. Other fire officials have also criticized the union's letter, stating they felt Wiltbank was being unfairly scapegoated and the union's concerns should have been brought forward months beforehand.
But the union's letter was also direct in stating they were grateful for Wiltbank's efforts to champion a strong EMS program in South Lewis County and stated they did not want to take away the fact that his support has allowed the agency to continue.
"We wouldn't have this without him," said Union President Brad Flexhaug of Wiltbank's contributions to Medic One after the board's decision on Feb. 17.
Medic One Business Manager Diane Wallace also noted Wiltbank had been head of the agency since it was formed in 1995 through an interlocal agreement between fire districts in Winlock and Toledo, and later Vader, and said she felt such a contribution should not be ignored.
Wiltbank had also been terminated last year from his position as chief of Lewis County Fire District 2, in Toledo, in a decision made by District 2's Board of Commissioners on Dec. 18. At the time, commissioners said they did not feel it was appropriate to disclose their reasons for terminating Wiltbank and, after Medic One's meeting on Feb. 17, District 2 Commission Chair Jacqui Spahr confirmed her district continues to have no comment on the matter.
When making attempts to contact Wiltbank for comment on this report, Town Crier had not been successful reaching him before deadline.