Debate over EMS response heats up

SEMINOLE — County and local officials are outraged that a fire chief is using the horrific car crash that killed four teens to emphasize his argument that the county plays politics when deciding which department gets called first.

Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue Chief Rusty Livernois wrote a letter to County Administrator Robert LaSala, implying that his teams could have gotten there more quickly than the Seminole squads that were dispatched.

In referring to the crash, he says: "The question is 'Did they all have to die?' ''

The letter didn't sit well with Seminole Fire Chief Dan Graves, whose paramedics were first on the scene:

"It's the most egregious and incompetent letter I've ever seen a fire official put in writing."

Livernois and Seminole have long had disagreements about two stations in the area that are less than a mile from each other. Livernois and Graves both agree one should close. Not surprisingly, each thinks the other's station should go. The county has indicated it will withdraw the EMS funding to Livernois' Station 28 starting Oct. 1.

While Livernois was trying to make a point, the letter may not have helped his cause.

"Frankly, that letter kind of left us speechless," said James Dates, the assistant county administrator handling the issue.

Bill Pellan, director of investigations with the Pinellas County medical examiner's office, said the crash is still under investigation so details cannot be released. However, Pellan agreed the boys could not have been saved even had paramedics been standing at the scene when the crash occurred.

Seminole paramedics received the call about 11:18 p.m. April 10. It took them about 4 minutes and 20 seconds to get to the scene about a mile away on 86th Avenue N. When they arrived, they found a flaming Lexus against a tree.

Nathan Richardson, 15, Keith MacCollom, 17, and Joey Ruzecki, 16, were all dead. LeShawn Smith, 16, was declared dead en route to Sun Coast Hospital. Corey Lepore, 17, survived.

During the hours that followed Seminole's arrival, numerous other units were called, among them fire Truck 28 belonging to Pinellas Suncoast. It was also a mile away from the accident. The Suncoast truck was called at 11:22 and arrived a little more than 3 minutes later.

Livernois said Tuesday that, had Truck 28 been called first, it would have gotten there faster than Seminole did. He discounted any variation in traffic that could have affected the speed of response. He also conceded that the boys were doomed from the time the accident happened.

The point, he said, is that Pinellas Suncoast would have been in a better position to save the teens had any been able to be saved. The problem, he said, is more widespread: Sometimes the faster responder is not the one that's called. That, he said, happens every day. The system is based on politics rather than what is best for Pinellas residents. That needs to change, Livernois said.

Livernois said he was using the incident to make a larger point, and never intended to imply any of the teens could have been saved.

In the letter, he writes, "I am asking these questions as I am sure the residents of the area and the families of these four young people will also ask. When does the territorial dispute end? How many other people must die before this is properly dealt with and the politics are removed from the equation?"

Seminole officials said they've heard Livernois' complaints before. The county even set up a meeting in December to discuss the issue with both Seminole and Livernois. But Livernois refused to attend.

He said Tuesday he saw no point to it. The county had the information and should fix the situation, he said.

The political dispute, said Seminole officials, is what's really behind Livernois' complaints. City Manager Frank Edmunds said he's using a tragedy for his own ends.

"I found Chief Livernois' letter to be an appalling and disturbing attempt to politicize a very tragic accident," he said.

Anne Lindberg can be reached at (727) 893-8450 or alindberg@sptimes.com.

Debate over EMS response heats up 04/29/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 29, 2009 10:24am]

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