LEALMAN — Fliers distributed recently in the Five Towns condominium complex had a stark warning:
If the County Commission approves a proposed shuffling of paramedic positions, it would add "at least 2 1/2 minutes and maybe even longer" to the paramedic response time to the complex's 3,500 residents, most of whom are elderly. "That's a long time to wait," the fliers said, "when … your life is depending on the paramedics to arrive."
But the flier, which was distributed by Lealman firefighters, is wrong. It says the current response time to Five Towns is 4 minutes, but county and Lealman Fire Department records show the average response time ranges from 5 minutes and 22 seconds to 7 minutes and 13 seconds.
Lealman fire Chief Rick Graham acknowledged Tuesday that the flier is incorrect about the Five Towns response time. He said the flier was distributed to many places in the western portion of the Lealman fire district where response times can be as low as 3 minutes and 25 seconds.
"You've got the whole gamut of different response times," Graham said. "That was not just for Five Towns, by any stretch of the imagination."
The fallout from the flier is a bombardment of e-mails and calls to county commissioners from residents worried about the proposal.
"We are getting a lot of e-mails from (Lealman Community Association) members and Five Towns residents concerned about response times," said Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch. "Response time is always a concern."
That should not be a concern in this case, county emergency medical service staff members say.
The proposal the flier alludes to is to move one position from Lealman Fire Station 19, at 6694 46th Ave. N, to Station 16, at 4600 58th St. N in Kenneth City. The two stations are about a mile apart.
It's a move that would "produce better service levels while achieving significant savings," said Craig Hare, the county's emergency medical services division manager.
Lealman has long provided fire and EMS services to the area between Pinellas Park and St. Petersburg. It has previously had a contract with Kenneth City to provide fire service to that town.
That changed last year when Lealman abruptly canceled the Kenneth City contract because the town annexed properties out of the fire district. The district was upset because it would lose the tax money from those properties to the town. The two were unable to negotiate a settlement.
Kenneth City instead contracted with Pinellas Park, which refurbished an old station that had been repurposed in Kenneth City. That station became Station 16 .
"Bottom line is, when the fire board basically ended the agreement with Kenneth City, and they introduced another provider in the middle of that service area, it changed the mix," Welch said. "Ending that contract had some unintended consequences here."
Pinellas Park asked the county to pay for a paramedic position for Kenneth City Station 16. A paramedic position is 3.4 paramedics — one for each of the three 24-hour shifts, and one for the paramedic who replaces those who are ill or on vacation — plus gas and other necessities. Lealman also asked for two new paramedic positions at Fire Station 18, at 4360 55th Ave. N, a bit less than 2 miles' driving distance from 16.
The county denied Lealman's request for the positions at 18. But county staff members have recommended changes at 19 and 16.
As it stands now, Station 19 has three paramedic positions. The county wants to leave one there, eliminate one and move one to 16.
Station 19 is the first responder to Five Towns and other residents and businesses in the far western portion of the fire district. If the proposal goes through, 19 would remain the first responder for those areas. Station 16 would become the first responder for residents in the mid-portion of the Lealman fire district. Station 18 would retain first-responder responsibility for the eastern portion of the district.
As now, there would be three vehicles with county-funded paramedics aboard, but the county would save money. Hare estimated that the county, which is facing an estimated $11 million shortfall in EMS, would save a minimum of $451,000. Lealman would lose about $860,000 in county funds, and Pinellas Park would gain about $409,000 in county EMS money.
The savings would come in part from the elimination of one position and in part because Pinellas Park charges the county less for paramedics than Lealman does.