Not to stir controversy, but many progressive departments in FL are starting to realize they can no longer justify their huge budgets for the fire side. Slowly but surely, they are realizing what is gong to make money in the future and what aspect of the department needs to be focused on in order to ensure grants and overall public safety. There are several departments in FL that consider themselves EMS based fire departments. I have no problem with this terminology and I think it is a good thing. I am also sure that many disagree, especially in the parts of the world where fire and EMS are still seperate. What can you do? Anyways, I found an example of progress.

To better handle medical calls that flood into Osceola County's Fire-Rescue Department, the county is eliminating three firefighter jobs and replacing them with emergency medical services lieutenants.

Officials' hope is that by putting three supervisors with medical training out in the field, the county will provide better care for the thousands of residents and visitors who call annually for help.

"It's an extra set of eyes, ears and hands to do whatever needs to be done," said Tad Stone, the county public safety administrator.

The change is a policy shift for the department, which has struggled to keep up with booming population growth by adding nearly 100 firefighters to its force in just the past two years.

That staffing increase has created full-time stations in areas that had been served by volunteer forces in the past. But with 85 percent of all calls being for medical help -- more than 16,000 ambulance calls a year -- further tinkering was needed, officials said.

County Commissioner Ken Shipley, a former paramedic, said the adjustment serves residents and the front-line personnel who often must juggle medical care with logistical work, such as directing traffic or clearing a landing area for medical-transport helicopters.

"We need to be constantly looking at the best way to provide for our citizens as well as our responders," Shipley said. "Putting lieutenants in the field means someone will be looking at that big picture."

The big picture has been evolving for the department since 2001, when Osceola took its volunteer force under the wing of its paid firefighters. That move came after controversy about on-duty volunteers attending parties and improper use of county-paid cars, cell phones and credit cards.

In 2002, Lt. John Mickel and rookie firefighter Dallas Begg died in a training exercise. Their deaths, and a subsequent report from a state agency finding that a series of blunders contributed to the calamity, forced significant restructuring of the department.

Since then, 94 employees have been added to bring the department to 300 full-time employees.

The reclassifications will not add to the overall staffing. The change will cost the county $48,366, which will be taken from the emergency-services budget.