In response to the June 6 editorial regarding Pinellas County's emergency medical services system (EMS system is due for an overhaul), the city of St. Petersburg wishes to clarify a few points.
First, an independent county study shows that the county's cost per call is right at the average with other systems nationwide. At the same time, the county's statistics on patient survivability are "exemplary." County residents are getting great emergency medical services for their money.
Second, as the county proposal currently stands, St. Petersburg's share of funds appropriated by voters in the 1980s to offset the costs of providing quick, first response from St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue would be reduced from $12 million to $4 million annually. This is not a "modest" reduction but a debilitating cut.
This reduction is based on a notion that the system should be equitable for all cities within Pinellas County. It is equitable now. Pinellas County property owners pay 0.58 mills annually for exemplary countywide EMS service, which they receive whether they are at home or traveling anywhere within the county. However, if the proposed cuts are implemented, St. Petersburg and county residents will suffer at least a minute delay in response times. A minute can make the difference between life and death and shouldn't be taken lightly. Under the plan, Clearwater would receive funding for 11 units with a volume of 22,000 calls, while St. Petersburg would receive funding for 14 units, with nearly double the call volume of 40,000. This is not equitable.
Under the proposed plan, St. Petersburg would eliminate 10 EMS ambulances and use 12 ALS engines (fire trucks) for medical emergencies. Sending an ALS engine is not practical or efficient in high-volume areas such as St. Petersburg. Moreover, this means when an ALS engine is dispatched to a medical emergency, it is no longer available to respond to a fire or serious auto accident. An engine would be dispatched from another location at a greater distance away — lengthening response times and possibly endangering the lives of residents and firefighters. The report being used as a basis for the EMS proposal did not evaluate the effects these cuts would have on local fire departments and response times. It strictly deals with emergency medical services. Is it in the citizens' best interest to change one without evaluating the other?
The city has worked earnestly with Pinellas cities and county government to find a solution. St. Petersburg has offered multiple cost-saving proposals, including being a test site for local fire-based transport — which we did successfully before the county EMS system was implemented in the 1980s. Currently 71 percent of all Florida cities use a fire-based EMS system and the majority of those agencies transport. If it works in Hillsborough, Tampa, Orlando and Sarasota, why can't it work in Pinellas?
St. Petersburg, along with all cities in Pinellas and its county government, are working toward the same goal: continued exemplary EMS service at the most efficient cost possible. However, the county's proposal will have a detrimental effect on the EMS and fire service St. Petersburg taxpayers currently pay for, expect and deserve. As a responsible city government, it is our duty to protect this most essential public service.
James Large is the St. Petersburg chief of fire and rescue.