Lauderdale, Florida Fire Chief, Union Are At Odds Over Low-Key Medical Director

Dr. Harry Wayne Lee has worked for 33 years in emergency medicine and was once named the state's top EMS medical director

Frank Porcella, Margate's fire chief, said Lee occasionally visits fire stations and rides with paramedics there. But he said Lee is always reachable when needed and makes sure paramedics have the right training.

"Would the guys like to see him more? I'm sure they probably would," Porcella said. "But there aren't any concerns that the men have that aren't addressed either in person [by Lee] or through our EMS division chief."

But another authority says that may not be enough.

Dr. Michael Copass, Seattle Fire-Rescue's full-time medical director, is considered by many EMS experts to be one of the best directors in the United States, largely because his department has one of the highest patient-survival rates in the nation. He said it's crucial for a medical director to play a personal role in paramedics' training and field time if patients are going to get life-saving care.

A medical director "needs to have contact with his people on a day-by-day basis," said Copass, who was featured in a recent USA Today series comparing departments around the country that provide EMS. "You can't do it by remote control."

Only two cities, Coral Springs and Oakland Park, require Lee to spend a specific amount of time personally training and riding with paramedics.

training requirements

In Coral Springs, Lee must be available for four hours per month for classroom teaching and reviews and four hours for field time with paramedics, according to an amendment the city added to his contract in December.

But the first training session he attended this year was Aug. 19, City Clerk Peter Richardson said after conferring with Coral Springs Fire Chief Donald Haupt.

Lee's contract with Coral Springs gave him an automatic two-year extension when it expired Sept. 30. However, Haupt said "there's been some concern" in the department about Lee's record of personally conducting training.

Chris Bator, the district vice president for Coral Springs' fire union, said firefighters aired their complaints to Lee during the Aug. 19 meeting about him not spending enough time with paramedics.

"A majority of our people only know him by name but never met him until the meeting," Bator said.

Oakland Park's contract with Lee mandates that he ride with paramedics there for at least 24 hours annually. However, records show Lee rode for only six hours in 2002. Records from previous years were not available.

Lee said he has complied with his contracts, and he questioned the accuracy of the records cited by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel because he said he had not seen them.

"I certainly would assume that if I was not [in compliance], I would hear from the city," he said.

The state Department of Health requires fire-rescue departments -- not medical directors -- to maintain training records.

Along with his medical director duties, Lee is the chief of emergency medicine for the North Broward Hospital District and a board member of PhyAmerica South Florida, a service that contracts emergency room physicians to local hospitals.

He began his medical career as an Air Force flight surgeon during the Vietnam War. He is the vice president of the Florida Emergency Medicine Foundation and chairs Broward Community College's curriculum advisory committee on EMS training for paramedics, and the state Health Department honored him as the top medical director in Florida in 1997 for his work with Margate Fire-Rescue.

Lee said his role as medical director of six systems and work with the hospitals give him a huge advantage in training paramedics.

"Because of my ... 24-hour- a-day involvement in the prehospital side and the hospital side, I believe that brings tremendous value to the systems that I work with," he said.

"It does keep me busy."

Staff Writer Shannon O'Boye contributed to this report.