Fire chief heats up EMS debate
ST. PETERSBURG - For at least the past several years, Pinellas' fire chiefs and firefighters have suggested the county could cut the costs of emergency medical services by letting firefighters transport the sick and injured to hospitals.
But Pinellas County Administrator Bob LaSala has been distinctly cool to the idea. He has proposed cutting funding to some fire departments that provide EMS service and changing the way the system is funded. His idea, based on a study of the system by consultant Mic Gunderson of Integral Performance SOlutions (IPS), has had an equally cool reception from city and fire officials who say LaSala's plan will reduce service and shift funding to the cities and fire districts.
Three firefighters submitted plans for fire transport to county officials. LaSala brushed off the first one, submitted by Seminole District fire Chief Rick Koda, several months ago. And last week, he released findings that said the other plan, submitted by Palm Harbor firefighter Scott Sanford and Lealman fire Capt. Jim Millican was also unworkable.
"The analysis clearly demonstrates that the proposal is not fiscally or operationally viable," LaSala wrote in a memo to county commissioners. "Based on this analysis, I feel it is important to move past this debate. This debate is diverting the EMS system's energies from its important quality improvement and fiscal efficiency initiatives."
St. Petersburg fire Chief Jim Large doesn't agree. He wrote an e-mail to Craig Hare, who oversees EMS for the county and who helped analyze the Sanford-Millican plan (which has been endorsed by the county fire chiefs association):
"Craig, please explain the following:
"Who on your staff is the expert in fire-based transport that was able to determine that this plan is not feasible? Who on your staff has any expertise in fire and the impact on service by your plan? Mic Gunderson by his own admission was not hired to consider the impact on fire.
Why does this plan merit no further consideration when your IPS study, by your own admission, remains a draft? Perhaps the fire based transport plan can continue to be tweaked the same as your plan?
"Why has every proposal other than yours been firmly rejected as not viable? We have demonstrated substantial savings in all plans.
"How does taking 14,000 calls from fire and giving them to Sunstar save the county a nickel?
Any savings comes from the elimination of units and personnel. In the absence of any savings the intent here is to reduce fires involvement in EMS to support your IPS plan, correct?"
-- Anne Lindberg, Times Staff Writer