ST. PETERSBURG — This city's fire union says letting firefighters take sick people to the hospital is the best way to reduce the costs of Pinellas' emergency medical services system.
The union, which represents members from the St. Petersburg, Lealman and South Pasadena fire departments, endorsed the concept of firefighter transport both in emergency and nonemergency situations.
"We believe that's the best way to deliver service," St. Petersburg union president Winthrop Newton said.
The union's stance comes at a time when Pinellas County is looking at a way to save EMS costs. County Administrator Bob LaSala says the system will be bankrupt by 2013 if drastic changes are not made immediately.
LaSala has suggested upping the countywide EMS property tax by an average 41 percent and changing the way the system is funded. But many of the county's 18 cities and fire districts that provide EMS service are questioning the change in funding, which, they say, will shift the money burden to local shoulders and will deteriorate the delivery of services.
Some have suggested a better solution would be to allow firefighters to transport patients. Under the current system, the county contracts with a Texas-based company, Paramedics Plus, to provide ambulance service under the name Sunstar.
The ambulance portion of the system is run from user fees. Paramedics Plus receives about $21 million a year for the service. The remainder of the fees collected — about $20 million — goes to the county for such things as medical and other supplies and county personnel who run the EMS system.
Firefighters say the money that goes to Paramedics Plus should go to local firefighters instead.
St. Petersburg has done one study saying it could be done. And two plans written by firefighters have been submitted to the county.
LaSala does not like the idea. He told members of the Pinellas Emergency Medical Services Advisory Council last Wednesday that there is "no empirical evidence today" to indicate that firefighter transport will work. That could change in the future, he said.
The idea isn't going to go away. Newton said the other unions in the county are being asked to support a resolution supporting firefighter transport.
Beth Rawlins, a Clearwater government relations consultant, has agreed to help sell the concept. Rawlins said she has been paid $1 so far for her services. She has sat in on meetings between LaSala, county officials and firefighters who presented their transport plan.
Reach Anne Lindberg at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8450.