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To: WSDOT Secretary Roger Millard and WSF Assistant Secretary Patty Rubstello

Washington State Ferries Preferential Boarding for Human and Animal Emergencies

Washington State Ferries Preferential Boarding for Human and Animal Emergencies

Dear Secretary Millar and Assistant Secretary Rubstello:

I am writing to ask you to change Washington State Ferries’ practice around preferential loading to include human and animal emergencies without a medical form certified by a physician, and without a call from a physician or veterinarian. Ferry staff must have additional discretion when a vehicle occupant, whether human or animal, is clearly in medical distress.

I live on Vashon Island. The ferry is our only means of transportation off of the island. On Thursday, November 18, my partner raced to the boat with our beloved dog Renton who was experiencing a life threatening medical emergency. We were rushing him to the ER veterinarian in Seattle with little time to spare. As there was a long line for the boat, she used the medical practice of driving to the front of the line with her lights flashing. She explained the situation through sobs, and also offered to show ferry terminal staff an email from the ER vet stating that he needed urgent medical care. Not only was she denied access to the boat, both a ferry worker and a supervisor were incredibly rude and callous to her. She was made to go to the end of the line and wait another hour with our dog quite literally dying the back seat of our car. In my view, this is unforgivable.

In the days since Renton’s passing, we have been talking with other Vashonites. Over 225 people in a 24 hour period have indicated that they would be in favor of allowing a human or animal emergency to load on the boat in front of them, even if it inconvenienced them. I have been stunned to learn that several women in labor have been denied access to the ferry because they did not have the medical form certified by a physician. With the lack of readily available medical care on the island, especially outside of business hours, ferry workers must have discretion to allow true emergencies on the boat without going through arduous approval processes—sometimes, a medical situation does not require an aid car or a medivac, but waiting an hour can make a big difference. This is especially true with the recent cutbacks in ferry service to a two-boat schedule.

I have been given the advice of getting a physician or our vet to call ahead. I have been given the advice to stop at the fire department, and they can call ahead to the boat. Often, there is no time in order to not miss the next boat and incur a wait. And how is the average islander expected to know any of this?!?
Where is the phone number we are supposed to call, especially outside of business hours?? We certainly didn’t, and we have lived here for over two years.

I will be pursuing a change to RCW 486-300-700 to require these changes. However, Washington State Law already allows ferry terminal staff discretion: “However, when that vehicle occupant has not submitted the proper medical form, preferential loading will be permissible based upon appropriate terminal staff determination.” My understanding is that terminal staff do not currently allowed discretion in these situations. I urge you to change this Washington State Ferries practice, and train your staff to make thoughtful determinations about priority loading for human and animal medical emergencies.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Why is this important?

The risk of living on an island with very limited medical and veterinary services can be mitigated. Ferry terminal workers must be able to use their discretion to give priority boarding to both people and animals having a medical emergency, including women in labor, without a medical form or a phone call from a physician or veterinarian.

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Updates

2021-11-26 12:25:18 -0500

500 signatures reached

2021-11-23 11:59:05 -0500

100 signatures reached

2021-11-23 10:30:03 -0500

50 signatures reached

2021-11-23 10:03:00 -0500

25 signatures reached

2021-11-23 07:35:44 -0500

10 signatures reached