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St. Petersburg City Council holds off on EMS lawsuit, endorses firefighter transport

ST. PETERSBURG — City Council members on Monday delayed a decision to sue Pinellas County over a threatened slash in the money St. Petersburg receives to provide emergency medical services.

Delaying the decision until Dec. 1 gives the St. Petersburg council time to hear county commissioners' thoughts about the future of EMS during a workshop scheduled for Monday morning.

It will also give the council a chance to hear the thoughts of the legislative delegation on Nov. 30. That's the day delegation chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, has scheduled a public hearing on EMS and has proposed the delegation meet with the County Commission.

However, council members passed two resolutions.

One endorses firefighter transport — allowing firefighter/paramedics to take patients to the hospital. Under Pinellas' current system, firefighters are barred from doing so unless they get permission from county EMS authorities. If they transport without that permission, their fire district is fined.

"We're not saying we support a particular plan, but we support fire-based transport," St. Petersburg fire Chief Jim Large said.

The second resolution asks the County Commission not to renew the contract with Paramedics Plus, a Texas-based, for-profit company that has the sole right to transport patients to hospitals. County commissioners must vote by Dec. 31 whether to renew the contract, which is worth about $37 million a year. If they do not renew, Paramedics Plus would provide service for the remainder of this fiscal year, but would have to leave Pinellas on Sept. 30 when the year ends.

St. Petersburg is not the first to pass such resolutions. Several other cities, fire districts and community groups have passed resolutions endorsing firefighter transport or encouraging commissioners to explore the idea. Many of those resolutions ask the commission not to renew the Paramedics Plus agreement.

St. Petersburg council members unanimously supported the resolutions but were split on waiting to decide whether to sue. Some wanted to authorize Mayor Bill Foster to file suit Dec. 1 should the commission endorse County Administrator Bob LaSala's proposal to cut $7 million of the $12 million the county gives St. Petersburg for providing EMS.

Thus far, they said, LaSala and commission chairwoman Susan Latvala have spoken for the commission and have refused to negotiate. Other commissioners, they said, tell them in private, one-on-one talks that they do not support LaSala's plan but they don't disavow it in public meetings. The commission had the chance to say it does not support the proposal on Halloween, when its members met with the council in a nine-hour meeting. Council members said St. Petersburg offered concessions and county commissioners held firm to LaSala's proposed cuts.

If they don't support LaSala's plan, "they could have said that at the meeting," council member Leslie Curran said. "Man up and say something."

And council member Karl Nurse predicted, "If LaSala does speak for the County Commission, we're going to court."

Reach Anne Lindberg at alindberg@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450.

St. Petersburg City Council holds off on EMS lawsuit, endorses firefighter transport 11/22/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 22, 2011 2:19pm]
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