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Tarpon to restructure fire agency

TARPON SPRINGS — The City Commission has approved a restructuring of the city Fire Department to save money, eliminating the firefighter-emergency medical technician position.

Fire Chief Rick Butcher told the commission Tuesday that replacing the firefighter-EMT position with a firefighter-paramedic will lower overtime costs.

If a firefighter is absent, an EMT cannot be used to fill in as a driver engineer, paramedic or lieutenant without being fully qualified at each level, Butcher said. Paramedics, who have more initial training, can more quickly fill in when someone in those positions is absent, Butcher said.

There are currently three EMT positions budgeted. Two of those positions are vacant due to recent retirements and promotions. Butcher was given permission to hire firefighter-paramedics for those two slots. The third position is occupied by someone who is due to retire within the next two and a half years. That position will then be filled with a firefighter-paramedic.

Butcher will save $32,405 because the new hires will be lower in the salary range than the employees who retired.

The fire department currently operates with three shifts, 11 firefighters per shift. The fire protection contract that Tarpon has with Pinellas County requires that there be a minimum of three firefighters on each unit.

The emergency medical services contract with the county requires that there be one paramedic and one other emergency worker on an advance life support unit. That second person can be a firefighter-EMT.

While firefighter-EMTs can be extremely useful, Butcher said for a small department there is more value from a firefighter-paramedic. A firefighter-paramedic can insert IVs, dispense medication and operate heart monitoring devices. Firefighter-EMTs provide CPR and basic life support, Butcher said.

"It gives me more versatility with my personnel," he said of the firefighter-paramedic.

With small departments, that versatility is key, said Acting Chief Tom Jamison with East Lake Fire and Rescue. Jamison said of the 30 line personnel in his department, four are firefighter-EMTs.

"I understand what Tarpon is talking about," Jamison said. "You have to have a paramedic in the paramedic seat. An EMT can't sit in that seat."

Tarpon Commissioner Jeff Larsen said he was pleased with Butcher's "proactive approach" to cost cutting. Mayor David Archie said the move serves a dual purpose.

"To me, it's more of the efficiency perspective as it is a cost-saving method," Archie said. "But in this economy, it all helps."

Contact Demorris A. Lee at dalee@sptimes.com.

Tarpon to restructure fire agency 05/06/11 [Last modified: Friday, May 6, 2011 8:02pm]
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