Pinellas should change its emergency medical services system to allow firefighter-paramedics to take people to the hospital, says an outgoing state representative who is running for a seat on the County Commission.
Ed Hooper, a former firefighter from Clearwater, proposes Pinellas adopt a hybrid system that would have firefighters taking some people to the hospital and the private ambulance company taking others.
"I think there is a way to do both," Hooper said. "There is nothing wrong with (firefighters) transporting."
Hooper, who has termed out of his House seat, made his comments Monday to the Tampa Bay Times editorial board. Hooper, a Republican, is running against incumbent Norm Roche for the District 2 countywide seat on the commission in the Aug. 26 primary election. The winner will face Largo Mayor Pat Gerard, a Democrat, in the November general election.
Under Pinellas County's current EMS system, when someone calls for medical help, most of the time a fire vehicle and an ambulance are both sent. The firefighter-paramedics provide immediate help, but are not allowed to take anyone to a hospital, except in rare circumstances, even if they're in a transport-ready fire vehicle. They must wait for the ambulance to transport the patient to the hospital.
Hooper would change that. His proposal has five parts:
• Fire departments that already have transport-ready vehicles (called rescues) would take patients to the hospital. This would reduce the number of paramedics who answer calls in those areas because only the one vehicle would be sent. Departments with transport-ready rescue units include the five busiest in the county — St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Largo, Pinellas Park and Lealman.
• Fire departments that have no transport-ready vehicles would continue to use the Sunstar units, which are run by a private, for-profit company. But, instead of positioning those ambulances randomly across the county to await calls, they would be at fire stations.
• Funding for EMS, paid by a countywide property tax, would be equalized so the cost of a firefighter-paramedic would not vary widely among the 18 departments that provide EMS service.
• The county would continue to bill and collect ambulance fees even if the fire department runs the calls.
"The county should always be in charge of billing and collection," Hooper said. "That should not change."
• Some of the fire stations in the county would close. Many of the stations are too close together and unnecessary, he said.
Contact Anne Lindberg at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8450. Follow @alindbergtimes.