Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

St. Petersburg fire chief opposes EMS funding change proposal

ST. PETERSBURG — Fire Chief Jim Large says there's no way his department can provide quality service for medical emergencies under a county proposal to change the way such services are funded.

It's unclear, Large said, what St. Petersburg officials plan to do if they have to face an estimated cut of $7.3 million to $8.1 million a year, but "in a worst case scenario, we'll be out of the (EMS) business (and) let the county worry about EMS, since they're the authority."

St. Petersburg would provide only fire service, which is paid out of city funds. EMS is paid for by a countywide property tax and ambulance user fees.

Large said he hopes the situation doesn't deteriorate to the extent that St. Petersburg leaves the system. The St. Petersburg City Council and the Pinellas County Commission plan to meet to try to iron out a solution. That meeting is expected toward the end of October.

County Administrator Bob LaSala said he would like to know more about the facts behind Large's claims. But he declined to comment further until after the meetings between St. Petersburg and the county.

"I think it would be premature for me to speak to that until we have finished that process," LaSala said. "I don't want to get ahead of ourselves."

The county has a two-tier EMS system that uses firefighter/paramedics from the county's 18 fire departments to respond first to a medical emergency. County rules say they must be at the scene within 7½ minutes after being called at least 90 percent of the time, but the countywide average is better — about four minutes. An ambulance is also called, which arrives after the firefighters. The ambulance is run and staffed by Paramedics Plus, a Texas company that contracts with the county to run the calls under the name Sunstar. The ambulance paramedics take the patient to the hospital. The goal is to get the firefighters back on the street quickly to be available for the next emergency rather than being tied up at the hospital.

But LaSala says the system is financially unsustainable and will be bankrupt in 2013 if changes are not made. The county raised ambulance fees last year. This year, the County Commission is poised to raise the property tax rate for EMS by an average of 41 percent.

LaSala has also proposed a new funding plan — pay the departments for 72 firefighter/paramedic positions who would ride on fire trucks, that would be partially funded by the county.

A position is three people — one for each shift — and the replacements necessary during vacations or sick time. The county would pay the average salary and benefits of firefighter/paramedics across the county. That's an increase in the number of vehicles funded (currently the county pays part or all of the money for 62) but a decrease in the number of positions (currently 85).

LaSala says the savings would be about $11 million a year over the current system and would not change the standard of service. By standard, LaSala is referring to the requirement that the firefighters arrive in 7½ minutes 90 percent of the time.

But Large said LaSala is framing the discussion incorrectly. The debate over EMS should focus on the effect of LaSala's proposal on what actually happens on the street. And removing 13 paramedic positions (39-plus people) from the system can't help but delay responses to medical emergencies simply because there won't be enough people to answer calls.

The debate, so far, is "not about service, which is extremely sad," Large said. "There's no interest in having a conversation on the impact."

He added, "To sell this as no impact to service is extremely flawed. ... It's going to be a countywide problem. It's not (only) a St. Petersburg problem."

A problem, if it happens, could be especially noticeable in St. Petersburg, which accounts for about 29 percent of all medical-related emergency calls in the county. Of the 138,863 emergency medical calls in the county in 2010, the city responded to 40,254. Of the 89,359 calls from Jan. 1 through Aug. 15, the St. Petersburg Fire Department responded to 25,534.

The county currently pays St. Petersburg about $12.5 million to respond to those calls. But, under LaSala's plan, the city would receive between $4.4 million and $5.3 million.

It's an attempt, Large said, to push EMS funding onto the backs of fire departments and local taxpayers. And, he said, it will adversely impact the delivery of help to both medical and fire emergencies.

Reach Anne Lindberg at or (727) 893-8450.

St. Petersburg fire chief opposes EMS funding change proposal 08/27/11 [Last modified: Saturday, August 27, 2011 4:31am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. PolitiFact Florida checks out Rick Baker's talking point about the growth of St. Petersburg's A-rated schools


    Rick Baker has used mailers, forums and social media to relay one big message in his campaign for St. Petersburg mayor: Schools in St. Petersburg saw drastic improvements when he was mayor from 2001 to 2010.

    Rick Baker, candidate for St. Petersburg mayor
  2. Lady Antebellum's Charles Kelly talks family, songwriting and more before Tampa show

    Music & Concerts

    A while back at the Grammys, Charles Kelley found himself in the same room as Paul McCartney. The Lady Antebellum singer, a seven-time Grammy winner in his own right, couldn't work up the courage to say hello.

    Lady Antebellum perform at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre on Friday. Credit: Eric Ray Davidson
  3. Clearwater suspect due in court after 9 die in sweltering San Antonio truck


    SAN ANTONIO — Nine people are dead and the death toll could rise after emergency crews pulled dozens of people from a sweltering tractor-trailer found parked outside a Walmart in the midsummer Texas heat, victims of what officials said was an immigrant-smuggling attempt gone wrong.

    San Antonio police officers investigate the scene where eight people were found dead in a tractor-trailer loaded with at least 30 others outside a Walmart store in stifling summer heat in what police are calling a horrific human trafficking case, Sunday, July 23, 2017, in San Antonio. [Associated Press]
  4. What you need to know for Monday, July 24


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

    At 1.2 million gallons, the house of Harry Barkett in South Tampa used more water than anyone else in the Tampa Bay region between Jan. 1 and May 31 of this year, when Tampa was in a severe drought. ALESSANDRA DA PRA  |   Times
  5. Discovering the true meaning of Black Forest cake in the German region itself


    The first time I had a taste of the Black Forest, it wasn't by way of cake.

    Black Forest Cake in Germany was granted legally protected status in 2013. It must use the gateau’s original ingredients, including kirsch, a brandy made from fermented sour cherries from the region.