Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pinellas will modify plan to notify only ambulance service of some medical calls

Complaints from 10 of Pinellas' 18 fire departments have persuaded the county to modify its proposal to reduce the number of paramedics sent to some low-level medical emergencies.

Under the county's original proposal, only an ambulance would have been dispatched to those emergencies.

The fire departments were upset because under that plan, they would not have been told that their residents had called for help.

Under the county's updated version, both fire departments and the ambulance service will be notified — as they are now — of calls for emergency medical help, but fire departments will be told they don't have to respond.

The County Commission is scheduled to consider the proposal at its Tuesday meeting.

"They're saying it's up to the individual jurisdictions whether they want to respond or not," said Pinellas Suncoast fire Chief Bert Polk, who is head of the Pinellas County Fire Chiefs Association. "It's a new concept."

Under Pinellas County's current emergency medical services system, both firefighter/paramedics and ambulances with paramedics are sent to most calls for help.

Originally, the county wanted to change that so that only an ambulance would be sent to such low-level calls as certain falls, abnormal blood pressure and hiccups. The county believed that sending only an ambulance would save money and leave firefighters available for more serious emergencies.

Under the current system, the next closest fire unit is sent to the emergency when the closest one is unavailable.

Cities and fire districts agreed that sending fewer paramedics and emergency vehicles to certain calls is a good idea. But many said the county was going about it the wrong way. They said the plan would not save money and they objected to being kept in the dark when one of their constituents called for help.

They also objected to the increased time it would take for someone to get help. Currently, firefighters arrive in an average of 4 1/2 minutes. Under the proposal, the ambulance would have up to 15 minutes to get to a scene.

The fire departments also worried that serious illnesses would be misclassified, resulting in a long wait for medical help when a more rapid response was needed.

Bruce Moeller, director of Pinellas' public safety division, said that last fear is overrated. The county analyzed the data and discovered it is more likely that a unit would get another emergency call while tied up treating a bump or bruise than it is that a dispatcher would under estimate the severity of a call.

"Which one is more likely to happen? … The likelihood of us being wrong is less than the likelihood there will be a second call," Moeller said. "This is a math problem."

Ten cities and fire districts passed resolutions opposing the original county proposal and asking that the commission hold off on its vote until a study of potential changes to the EMS system is completed. St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster said his city would sue if the county went ahead with the plan.

Then, last month, the East Lake Fire Commission took the strongest official stand against the proposal. It passed a resolution that, among other things, said the proposal "denies East Lake residents the level of emergency response that they are accustomed and entitled to."

The resolution also "demands notification of all calls placed from within the district," because the East Lake fire department "intends to respond to each and every call, regardless of severity, as it always has."

"We're very serious about this," said Mark Weinkrantz, chairman of the East Lake Fire Commission. "We're not going to accept their limitations. … We're not going to let the county tell us we can't respond to the needs of our community."

Anne Lindberg can be reached at [email protected].

Pinellas will modify plan to notify only ambulance service of some medical calls 01/10/13 [Last modified: Friday, January 11, 2013 6:57pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Clearwater eyes hiring new downtown director within two months

    CLEARWATER — Now that the city director tasked with revitalizing downtown has resigned after his arrest on a battery charge during Oktoberfest, City Manager Bill Horne said the goal is to not leave the position vacant long.

    Clearwater Assistant City Manager  Micah Maxwell will oversee downtown until the city hires a replacement for Seth Taylor.
  2. Tampa Bay's Top 100 Workplaces deadline extended to Nov. 17


    Think you work at one of the best places in Tampa Bay? You've got a little more time to make a pitch.

    Penny Hoarder and Gregory, Sharer & Stuart were among those at an event in Tampa last May honoring winners of the Tampa Bay Times Top Workplaces awards. Nominations are now open for this year.  
[OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
  3. Little separates McElwain and Muschamp eras of futility at Florida


     Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain watches the second quarter of the Florida Gators game against Texas A&M, at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, in Gainesville.
  4. Tampa-based Checkers testing delivery, aims for record expansion


    TAMPA — Tampa-based Checkers Drive-In Restaurants continues to fly under the radar compared to dominant burger chains like McDonald's and Burger King.

    Checkers Franchisee Shaji Joseph, of Tampa, hoses down the front walkway of his store at 6401 Park Boulevard, Pinellas Park. The business has a new look including signage and exterior tile. One drive through has been eliminated for an outdoor dining area, right. Joseph owns nine Checkers and is planning to open his tenth in Tampa.
[SCOTT KEELER   |   Times ]
  5. What you need to know for Friday, Oct. 20


    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today

    At last year's Dia de los Muertos, Casa Tina owner Tina Marie Avila (crouching) shows her "Ofrenda," or Day of the Dead alter. What would have been the 25th annual Dia de los Muertos Fiesta on Saturday had to be canceled this year because of Hurricane Irma. The folk festival will be back next year.
 [JIM DAMASKE  |  Times (2016)]