Lack of medical director threatens city rescues
Flagler Beach responders can't carry, administer oxygen

By JAMES MILLER
Staff Writer

Last update: 08 June 2003


FLAGLER BEACH -- Because their departments do not have a medical director, Flagler Beach city firefighters and lifeguards can no longer store compressed oxygen and use it to save lives.

While county Emergency Services Director Doug Wright says his agency keeps Flagler Beach safe, city Fire Chief Jon Macdonald and Beach Services Director Walter Forehand say they are concerned about potentially deadly delays.

"In a drowning situation, oxygen could mean the difference between life and death," Macdonald said Thursday. "If the county ambulance is out of town, it could be 10 or 15 minutes before we could administer oxygen to the patient."

Macdonald also said oxygen is critical for people who suffer heart attacks and congestive heart failure.

The Fire Department stopped carrying and administering oxygen in mid-May. City firefighters can administer the gas only if county emergency personnel provide it at the scene and advise them to do so.

Since mid-May, Macdonald and his two full-time professional firefighters have responded to at least four incidents in which they needed to administer oxygen before a county ambulance arrived, Macdonald said. The incidents involved heart attacks or people having difficulty breathing, he said.

Wright said the county has five ambulances -- one is stationed in Flagler Beach. Each is equipped to provide oxygen and more advanced life support. The county's FireFlight helicopter and a fire engine stationed in The Hammock also provide advanced medical response, he said.

"We haven't experienced any threat to anyone's life, but for Flagler Beach to have the capability to administer oxygen would be an additional asset," Wright said.

For the Fire Department to administer oxygen, a licensed medical doctor must write a prescription and develop a protocol for providing the gas, which is considered a drug under state and federal law.

Macdonald, who became chief in April, said he removed the Fire Department's oxygen containers from its trucks when county officials told him about three weeks ago that, as far as they knew, his department's authorization had lapsed. County officials said they thought the city last had authorization from former county Medical Director John Canakaris, who resigned in September 2001.

Flagler Beach does not have a medical director.

While Macdonald said he did not know exactly when the coverage lapsed, Rich Wieser, the county's Emergency Medical Services operations chief, said oxygen prescriptions are valid for only one year.

Beach Services, the lifeguards' department, also does not have a prescription, Director Walter Forehand said.

"We still have oxygen on our units. We're not administering unless it's OK'd by the county," he said.

Wieser said a department without a valid prescription cannot legally store and administer oxygen. Because the city's Beach Services and Fire Department are separate, each needs a prescription, he said.

If Flagler Beach officials want the two departments to provide oxygen, they must either hire a city medical director or ask the county to authorize its current medical director, Dr. Carol Grigg, to write prescriptions for city departments, officials said.

City Manager Nancy Ciummo said the City Commission would consider the issue at its regular meeting on Thursday.

james.miller@news-jrnl.com