Thursday, September 20, 2018
Public safety

After successful trial, Clearwater solidifies plan for more nimble EMS response

CLEARWATER — In April, the fire department kicked off a pilot program to test a new method to handle a persistent rise in emergency medical calls.

Now, it's likely the SUV packed with medical equipment will become a permanent presence in downtown Clearwater after the trial produced promising results.

The SUV, called a "peak unit," was designed to respond to medical emergencies during hours that experience a higher-than-usual call load in order to free up other vehicles, such as fire engines and ladder trucks, for bigger emergencies. The Clearwater Fire & Rescue Department tried out the unit in two locations: downtown in April and on the east side of the city along the U.S. 19 corridor in May.

READ MORE: In Clearwater, a new paramedic unit for medical calls improves response for bigger emergencies.

Both units responded to a lot of calls, said Chief Scott Ehlers: 196 downtown and 155 on the east side. But the downtown unit had stronger results and will likely receive funding from Pinellas County starting Oct. 1.

"This sort of was the sweet spot that we found here," Ehlers said.

County officials agreed, said Jim Fogarty, director of safety and emergency services. The county, which contracts with fire departments for emergency medical service, proposed adding about $250,000 to Clearwater's contract next year and the year after to cover the costs of the unit. The contract still has to go before the City Council and County Commission for approval.

Clearwater has seen an increase in EMS calls of 4 to 5 percent each year over the last five years, Ehlers said. That number is even higher — about 10 to 15 percent — from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. downtown, which is when the peak unit ran Tuesday through Friday during the trial. Ehlers attributes that to an influx of county, medical and other workers coming into the downtown core during business hours.

Over the course of April, the unit cut down on EMS calls for other response vehicles on the west side of Clearwater when compared to the same month in 2016. The fire engine in Fire Station 45 on Court Street saw the most dramatic decrease: about 35 percent, according to data Ehlers provided. Other units saw decreases between about 5 and 25 percent.

The east side's results weren't as consistent, but the department will continue to try different times to find the "sweet spot" for that part of the city, Ehlers said.

Department officials will work with the Clearwater Fire Fighters Association to figure out the best way to staff the SUV, which has room for two people.

Sean Becker, the association president, called the peak unit "a Band-Aid on a leaking bucket." An ideal solution would be more 24/7 staffing, but he acknowledged that would be an expensive undertaking.

"Every little bit helps," he said. "But it's not an overall fix to the increase in call volume."

Both Fogarty and Ehlers acknowledged that reality as well. Fogarty said the county is starting to focus its efforts on public education to try to prevent the medical emergency in the first place. In the meantime, departments will have to rely on deploying existing resources to help the problem.

"This is one solution," Ehlers said of the peak unit. "If I knew the real solution, I'd be a millionaire."

Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 893-8913 or [email protected] Follow @kathrynvarn.

Comments
Boston incident sparks concern over testing gas pipes in St. Pete

Boston incident sparks concern over testing gas pipes in St. Pete

By SUHAUNA HUSSAINTimes Staff WriterST. PETERSBURG — One day after a string of fiery natural-gas explosions rocked three Massachusetts towns,St. Petersburg sent out a notice to residents warning them that Florida Gas Transmission will be testing its...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Busted, baby: Rapper Plies arrested at Tampa International Airport

Busted, baby: Rapper Plies arrested at Tampa International Airport

TAMPA — The rapper Plies, aka Algernod Lanier Washington, was arrested at Tampa International Airport on Wednesday after authorities say a gun was found in his carry-on bag.The 42-year-old Wesley Chapel resident faces a charge of carrying a concealed...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office launches Facebook, Twitter accounts in Spanish

Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office launches Facebook, Twitter accounts in Spanish

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office now has Facebook and Twitter accounts in Spanish.The agency celebrated the official launch of the accounts on Wednesday. Sheriff Chad Chronister said the goal is to connect with an increasing number of...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Ninety animals seized Tuesday in Hernando County cruelty case

Ninety animals seized Tuesday in Hernando County cruelty case

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando sheriff’s deputies seized 90 animals on Tuesday and arrested a woman on animal cruelty and animal mistreatment charges after people called with concerns about an ill horse.Crystal Robin Crawford, 46, was arrested but not taken ...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Cops question viral video about human trafficking at Pinellas Publix

Cops question viral video about human trafficking at Pinellas Publix

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office is setting the record straight about a viral Facebook video posted by a Dunedin woman who claimed she almost fell victim to human trafficking. Lynne Knowles took to Facebook to share what happened to her at the Pu...
Published: 09/19/18
Pasco man taken down by K9 after attempting to kidnap infant girl, putting schools on lockdown

Pasco man taken down by K9 after attempting to kidnap infant girl, putting schools on lockdown

NEW PORT RICHEY — A few hours before he was lying on his back in the woods, shirtless with a dog’s jaws clamped around his arm, Kevin Wilson climbed into a second-story window and tried to kidnap a 6-month-old baby girl, according to the ...
Published: 09/19/18
Fate of FEMA leader Brock Long in doubt as Florence cleanup continues

Fate of FEMA leader Brock Long in doubt as Florence cleanup continues

WASHINGTON — While Hurricane Florence barreled through the Carolinas, a different type of storm was brewing within the federal disaster relief agency tasked with responding to the fallout.The fate of Brock Long, the head of the Federal Emergen...
Published: 09/19/18
Largo names new fire chief

Largo names new fire chief

LARGO — After two nationwide searches that produced 119 applicants, City Manager Henry Schubert didn’t have to look far to find his new fire chief.Schubert announced recently that Chad Pittman, deputy chief of Palm Harbor Fire Rescue, w...
Published: 09/19/18
Police release name of man shot Tuesday at Tampa apartment complex

Police release name of man shot Tuesday at Tampa apartment complex

TAMPA — An 18-year-old man was critically injured Tuesday when he was shot at an apartment complex in northeast Tampa.Officers responded about 2:30 a.m. to a call about an unknown emergency at the Silver Oaks Apartments, 4200 Kenneth Court, Ta...
Published: 09/18/18
Fatal punch on Gandy median leads to manslaughter charge in Tampa muralist’s death

Fatal punch on Gandy median leads to manslaughter charge in Tampa muralist’s death

TAMPA — Police are bringing manslaughter charges against a Tampa man accused of throwing a fatal punch last April at well-known local muralist Matt Callahan.The suspect, 34-year-old Keith Mauga of Tampa, already is serving five years for aggravated b...
Published: 09/18/18