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Fla. fire department seeks to take over ambulance services

Given recent battles over emergency service-related issues between North Naples fire and Collier EMS fire officials, the proposal will likely spur controversy

By Aaron Hale
The Naples Daily News

NORTH NAPLES, Fla. — The North Naples Fire Control and Rescue District, Collier County’s wealthiest fire department, has signaled it would like to take over ambulance services within its borders.

North Naples Fire Chief Orly Stolts said Friday the district was interested in expanding its medical services using tax revenues the county currently collects.

“We think we could provide the same level of service, and maybe a little better, for less money,’' Stolts said.

Collier County EMS, which is run by the county government, provides ambulance service for the whole county, funded in part from patient transport fees and the rest from property tax collection by the county.

The proposal raises questions about potential affects on public safety if ambulance service is transferred to another agency and if tax dollars are shifted away from the county-wide services.

Given recent battles over emergency service-related issues between North Naples fire and Collier EMS fire officials, the proposal will likely spur controversy.

In January, the North Naples fire district narrowly won support from the Collier County Commission to expand its paramedic services without ambulance transport. County EMS officials and Collier Emergency Medical Director Dr. Robert Tober strongly opposed the plan.

Outgoing EMS Chief Jeff Page is already signaling a potential fight, calling North Naples officials too inexperienced in ambulance services to run such an operation.

“I would not feel medically secure if my wife or I were ever there,’' Page said. “Those guys don’t have a clue.’'

Stolts, however, argues public safety would be improved because only one agency would have to run medical calls.

Under the current system, both fire agencies and county EMS personnel respond.

The fire chief said during a recent medical call in North Naples, county ambulances got lost and couldn’t find the address of the emergency. Stolts said the fire district had to send a fire truck to a major road to help flag down the ambulance.

“I just think it would be a much better system if the people on those ambulances stayed with us,’' he said.

Page also argues the rest of Collier County would either have to raise taxes or suffer a loss in public safety standards if one of the county’s richest areas stopped contributing to the county’s general EMS budget.

But Stolts said: “Our plan (is) not to take every dollar that’s coming out of North Naples.’'

Instead, the fire district would propose operating ambulances with a portion of what its residents pay the county, Stolts said, and the rest could go toward Collier County EMS.

Before North Naples could begin transporting patients, it would first require a certificate of need approved from the Collier County Commission. The fire district has not drafted that plan, and such a plan has not been brought before the district’s governing body.

Stolts said he doesn’t know how county officials will respond to the proposal.

“I just hope they’ll seriously look at the plan before they jump to a conclusion on what to do with it.’'

The fire district’s proposal is not unique. The city of Naples offered a similar proposal in April.

That plan came after Collier County EMS ambulances arrived nearly 10 minutes later than Naples fire crews to several medical emergency calls.

The Bonita Springs Fire Control and Rescue District has also proposed providing ambulance service for its citizens, but the district has not been able to reach an agreement with Lee County EMS on how that would be implemented.

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