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  1. Hernando

Brooksville Fire Department to add paramedics for advanced life support

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County and the city of Brooksville have thrown support behind a plan that finally will bring advanced life support paramedics to the Brooksville Fire Department.

The effort marks a turnaround for a department struggling just a year ago.

Its chief had been arrested on fraud charges. Turnover among firefighters was high. The city was facing legal and budget challenges. And city workers were at odds with the county fire and rescue personnel who shared their quarters.

Previous coverage: Brooksville City Council abandons plan of closing fire department

In the months since, fire Chief Ron Snowberger has been addressing the problems and drawing praise from city leaders.

The new agreement means that a year from now, the Brooksville department will have at least one paramedic per shift qualified to administer advanced life support.

County ambulances and fire trucks already are staffed with paramedics who can give medications, do heart monitoring and protect a patient's ability to breathe. City fire trucks have had personnel trained to fight fires and administer only basic life support, which does not include those procedures.

City residents pay for advanced life support services as part of their county taxes; they pay for basic life support and fire service on their city taxes.

Under the plan approved by the city and county in recent days, the county would provide $7,500 annual stipends for up to six city paramedics. The city would determine how to distribute those funds. One or two city paramedics would work each shift.

The stipends and the cost of supplies and equipment to provide advanced life support would come from the county's emergency medical services fund.

The city could then respond with a paramedic to a near-by emergency, so the county doesn't have to send an engine into the city to cover it, the county's deputy fire Chief Kevin Carroll explained to commissioners on Feb. 26. The city's fire engines tend to stay closer to their base, he said.

The delay in implementing the plan until the new fiscal year is partially a budgeting issue, but mostly because it will take months to train city personnel to be paramedics, he said. The county wants to be sure that city and county paramedics "have the same skill level.''

Carroll also praised Snowberger and the city for working on the agreement, saying the new chief "has truly been a blessing.''

County commissioners discussed the stipend amount. Commissioner John Allocco was worried that it would escalate over time like other pay increases, but county officials assured him amount is set unless the contract is re-negotiated.

Commission Chairman Jeff Holcomb also praised the new city fire department leadership and said everyone would beneift from the new arrangement.

"It's better for the people in Brooksville,'' Holcomb said, "and it's better for the county.''

Contact Barbara Behrendt at bbehrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434. Follow .

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