Pinellas County commissioners narrowly agreed Tuesday to reduce the number of paramedics who go to some medical emergencies.
But some charge that commissioners broke a promise they made a year ago to state legislators to temporarily hold off on changing the system until after a study had been done.
Many firefighters and several of the county's 18 districts wanted to change to a system where firefighters transport patients to hospitals. But Pinellas County Administrator Bob LaSala said such a system would not work and would be too expensive.
The study, suggested by state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, was supposed to help determine what system would best suit Pinellas. Missouri-based Fitch and Associates is scheduled to complete the study in late spring or early summer.
"We all agreed to stand down," St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster said. "We agreed to status quo pending the Fitch study. The cities and local governments did not violate that. The county did."
Foster added, "In spite of the county's action today, I want to find a permanent solution to medical first response for St. Petersburg and Pinellas County."
The commission voted 4-3 to send only the private ambulance company to certain, low-level calls, such as some falls, hiccups and insomnia. Those callers do not generally need immediate medical help, which firefighter/paramedics provide, but do usually go to the hospital.
The new system would kick in June 1.
The county said sending only an ambulance would be cheaper in the long run because it would not have to pay fire departments as much money if they ran fewer calls.
County officials added that the firefighters would be free to respond to other emergency calls.
But 10 of the departments objected to the plan, saying it would not save money. They also argued that they were obligated to serve their residents, so the county altered the plan in order that firefighters can still respond to those calls.
The three commissioners who voted against the change — Ken Welch, Charlie Justice and Norm Roche — said they wanted to hold off until after the Fitch study was finished. A decision on how many paramedics go to what calls could better be made, they said, when done in tandem with other changes to the system.