Fire-EMS merger figures due next week
By STEVEN N. LEVINE
BARTOW, Florida -- A 16-month-old, in-house study estimating the cost of cross-training Polk County firefighters and paramedics to function in both roles is expected next week.
Right now, paramedics operate through the county emergency medical services office. County paramedics and emergency medical technicians are both trained to volunteer firefighter standards. Meeting the 480-hour professional firefighter training requirement could take six months worth of part-time classes.
However, the option is more economical than training firefighters to become paramedics. That could take a year or more part-time and require clinical internship agreements with area hospitals.
Merging the county fire department and EMS agency may be inevitable, says Doug Lewis, newly-appointed county fire chief. A former paramedic, Lewis believes cross-training will save taxpayers money while providing faster response in outlying areas.
Lewis could not say when the plan will be presented to county commissioners, who have the final say on consolidation. County Emergency Services Director Larry Alexander heads an ad hoc committee exploring the merger question.
The plan was rejected by county leaders at least once before as too costly. Commissioners in July 2001 suggested cross-training paramedics and EMTs as professional firefighters could help meet nationally-recommended staffing standards. Hiring enough firefighters to meet the so-called "two in, two out" rule would have cost Polk County $2.5 million in 2001, then chief Bill Gunter said.
About 70 paramedics could be cross-trained initially, said Douglas Gieger, county EMS operations manager. The department fields about 180 EMTs and paramedics, but some paramedics already hold career firefighter certificates just as some of the county's 200 full-time firefighters are also paramedics. The county also counts on about 200 volunteers.
The issue is more complicated than just training. Cross-training makes the new firefighter-paramedics more attractive to "poaching" by higher-paying metropolitan counties, concedes Lewis, who came to Polk County July 22 from St. Petersburg.
"That means we'll have to pay them more. We can't be the training ground for every other county," Lewis said.
Tentatively, paramedics will be asked to take firefighting classes at Ridge Technical Center while off-duty. The county will reimburse the cost of the program. The issue is more complicated for firefighters, who may work staggered days during a particular month.
Cross training every county firefighter, paramedic and perhaps EMTs could take several years, Gieger said.
The change would also require all paramedics to be clean-shaven to guarantee air-tight seals on fire rescue masks. Gieger said he'd doff his beard if required to cross train.
The Federation of Public Employees Thursday said it represented only a few EMS support personnel and had no policy on the merger question.
Discretionary money in the $19 million 2002-03 fire service budget is intended to remodel stations and hire nearly three dozen full-time firefighters between October and March. The nearly $14 million EMS budget is likewise spoken for in a very tight budget year.
Commissioner Don Gifford, who led the latest issue charge, is anxious to crunch numbers on the plan that is the norm in some communities. Improving government efficiency and service is an elected representative's primary duty, he said.
"If there is significant overall savings with as good a service or better, I'm certain we'll find a way to fund that merger," Gifford said.
View Poll Results: Should Fire and EMS be combined and firefighters be cross trained?
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No, let firefighters fight fires.
No, it is too much training for one person.
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Absolutely, cross training more efficiently serves the public.
Thread: County weighs Fire-EMS merger
10-28-2002, 02:24 PM #1
- Join Date
- Apr 2002
- Land of milk and honey.
County weighs Fire-EMS merger
10-28-2002, 03:19 PM #2Hiring enough firefighters to meet the so-called "two in, two out" rule would have cost Polk County $2.5 million in 2001, then chief Bill Gunter said."This thread is being closed as it is off-topic and not related to the fire industry." - Isn't that what the Off Duty forum was for?
10-28-2002, 06:42 PM #3
- Join Date
- Jun 2002
- Glenn Dale Md, Heart of the P.G. County Fire Belt....
Cruisin' thru the opening to this thread, I noticed a discrepancy (?) Do career and volunteer firefighters in Florida train to DIFFERENT STANDARDS??? If this is true, my next question is WHAT IDIOT THOUGHT THAT UP? Wake up people, there's a problem out there waiting to bite you. ALL FIREFIGHTERS SHOULD BE TRAINED TO THE SAME STANDARD. Are the standards of the National Board on Fire Service Professional Qualifications not adequate??? A question of combining EMS & Fire pales in comparison with the question of why different training standards continue to exist. Before anyone goes off the deep end on this, Yes, I am a volunteer firefighter/officer and I am a professional at what I do. If someone passes the course to become a Firefighter I (NFPA & NBFSPQ standards) Then they are a firefighterI, There should be no connection between training and a paycheck....Stay Safe...Never use Force! Get a Bigger Hammer.
In memory of
Chief Earle W. Woods, 1912 - 1997
Asst. Chief John R. Woods Sr. 1937 - 2006
IACOJ Budget Analyst
I Refuse to be a Spectator. If I come to the Game, I'm Playing.
10-28-2002, 06:49 PM #4
- Join Date
- Jan 2002
- SF CA
On a cost/benefit analysis, I believe that a department would get more use (especialy smaller departments) out of it's budget by providing some type of ALS. It's been proven again and again that early difibrillation saves more lives. Or how about the asthmatic that is "shutting down." The argument for early ALS intervention is long and stong.
It shouldn't really be an argument over "whether" a department should cross train and maintain some sort of ALS presence, but "how." Unfortunately, what is a public service issue, from what I've seen, becomes a heated topic and is the source of some bitterness among firefighters and paramedics over many perceived losses, such as jobs, firefighter spots, tying up the rig for medicals, insanely high call volume, etc.
The implementation of ALS, the responsibilities of the Paramedic, and defining his duties and commitments are the key to making it work. As no one solution fits any department perfectly, a well planned merger has the potential (theoretically) to work wonders for a community. Equally though, a poorly planned merger can be disasterous for everyone involved.
10-29-2002, 01:34 AM #5
Its about time...
That department, any department should have done
that years ago.
As for the Professional vs. Volunteer debate. I
dont think the webteam wants to see it in here.
One thing, in my career and I am only talking
about MY career- I have heard and seen Volunteer
take the attitude of- "Well, I am a Volunteer and
here for free so...on and on..."
There is a difference. Professionals are held to
a standard or let go.
PS- Hey BoneyT...same guy from the firecareers
website??? If so, you da man.
Last edited by CALFFBOU; 10-29-2002 at 01:37 AM.
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