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Hillsborough paramedics win Round 1

TAMPA — Nearly 50 paramedics watched closely Monday as lawyers launched highly technical arguments, parsing the meaning of Florida statutes, county ordinances and union bylaws.

At issue: who gets to treat drunks, sunstroke victims and severely injured NFL players at Tampa Bay Buccaneers games.

The city of Tampa's paramedics have gotten these off-duty jobs, considered a plum moonlighting gig, for decades. Hills­borough County paramedics have been clamoring for a piece of the action.

The county paramedics prevailed Monday when, after an hour of debate, the Tampa Sports Authority sided with them in a 6-5 vote.

"This really is a question of fairness," said County Commissioner Jim Norman, who sits on the authority. "It's the right thing to do."

About 32 paramedics and three supervisors work a typical Buccaneers home game, earning hourly pay of $25 to $35 for four to seven hours.

Under a long-standing arrangement, only city medics have worked at Bucs games, USF Bulls games, concerts and other events at Raymond James Stadium because it's located within Tampa's city limits. Last year the Sports Authority, the governmental agency that oversees the stadium, spent nearly $147,000 on such services.

But Norman and the Hillsborough firefighters union argued that county paramedics should get some of the work because the county owns the stadium and pays two-thirds of the authority's annual financial deficit.

To prepare for Monday's decision, the Sports Authority got no less than six legal opinions on the matter — from the city, the county, the two local firefighters unions, the International Association of Firefighters and the Sports Authority's lawyer. Not surprisingly, many of the opinions disagreed with each other.

Representatives of the city and county firefighters unions made their cases regarding who has jurisdiction to work at the stadium. And the final vote divided city and county representatives on the Sports Authority.

Bob Buckhorn, a city appointee to the Sports Authority, said it would be better to have just one agency providing medical care at Raymond James because city and county paramedics use different sets of medical protocols.

"This is a medical issue, not a political issue," he said. "It's about patient care."

Hillsborough County Fire Chief Bill Nesmith guaranteed that county paramedics' service would be equal to the city's: "They're trained to the nth degree," he said.

It would be up to Sports Authority staff to divide the workload between city and county paramedics.

But the matter may not be resolved just yet.

Even before the authority voted, board member Frank DeBose predicted, "Either side that loses is going to go file a lawsuit."

And the city firefighters' union hasn't ruled that out.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3435.

Hillsborough paramedics win Round 1 04/21/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 23, 2008 3:48pm]
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