LUTZ — Hillsborough County commissioners have moved an ambulance from Lutz to the less affluent community of Progress Village, which has more than twice the number of medical emergencies.
The decision comes four months after commissioners delayed the switch so officials could further study the number of calls in both communities.
The Lutz Volunteer Fire Association, which staffs the engine at Station 24, would have preferred to see the ambulance stay in Lutz. Still, its president said the association understands that the county must make hard choices in a tough economy.
"Are we completely happy with it? Absolutely not," volunteer fire association president Jay Muffly said. "But at this time, it appears to be best for the public safety of Hillsborough County."
Rescue 24 at Lutz-Lake Fern Road and Second Street had been the county's least busy advanced life support ambulance for years, according to Hillsborough Fire-Rescue Chief Bill Nesmith.
And it became even less busy after officials stationed ambulances in Northdale and in southern Lutz at U.S. 41 and Chapman Road.
"We can't justify keeping a unit in that community with the number of calls that we have," Nesmith told commissioners on Jan. 22. "There are several days at a time that will go by without a call."
From Oct. 2 to Jan. 6, there were 246 calls for the Lutz ambulance. Progress Village had 594 calls during the same time. That's higher than the county average and is more than twice the number for Lutz.
During the study period, the advanced life support ambulance — one equipped to transport critically ill or injured patients — was stationed half the time in each community. It would start the day in Progress Village and end it in Lutz. With the move, it will be at Station 1 on 78th Street, south of Causeway Boulevard.
Nesmith said the ambulances in Northdale and in southern Lutz will continue to cover that area. Also, all Hillsborough fire engines, including the one at Station 24 in Lutz, carry paramedics who are trained to evaluate and stabilize patients immediately.
It is not unusual for advanced life support ambulances to cover each other's territories, Nesmith said. About 47 times a day — or 30 percent of the time — the ambulance considered to be the primary responder to a call is tied up and another ambulance must be sent from farther away.
Given the state of the county's budget, adding an ambulance to cover both stations would be out of the question, officials said. The startup cost would be $1.14 million, and the operating cost of the unit would be $827,719 a year. Fire-Rescue's annual budget is $121 million.
Most commissioners supported the move.
"I don't see there being any other way," Commissioner Kevin White said. "The numbers have proven that this is a necessity in the Progress Village-Palm River area."
Commissioner Jim Norman cast the lone dissenting vote, saying there should have been a countywide, station-by-station analysis.
"There's no denying that Progress Village needs and deserves the service," Norman said.
But he said the way the decision has emerged appears to pit one community against another.
Though he voted to approve the staff's recommendation, Commission Chairman Ken Hagan agreed that the move could be perceived as pitting one community against another, "and that's never a good thing."
Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 269-5311.