Fla. FD assumes oversight of ambulance service after 20+ years of discussions
Venice Fire Rescue held a swearing-in ceremony Wednesday after the city agreed to implement fire-EMS services with a staff of 24 firefighter-paramedics
Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fla.
VENICE, Fla. – Venice Fire Rescue will officially assume control of emergency services within city limits as of 8 a.m. Thursday.
“We are ready to go, we are fully staffed,” Venice Fire Rescue Chief Shawn Carvey said.
The district hosted a swearing-in ceremony at station 53 on Laurel Road Wednesday morning Carvey said the department has a full complement of 24 firefighter paramedics, which allows for one firefighter paramedic for each one of the ambulances and one for the fire engine at each station, as well as coverage for sick time and vacations.
Most important for city residents, they will continue to enjoy the enhanced response that occurred as the city started staffing each fire engine with a firefighter paramedic qualified to provide advanced life-support services.
The first ALS engine went into service in March, the second at the end of May, and the third just last month.
The city actually has four ambulances. The fourth unit can be rotated in when one of the other three are in need of maintenance or – if in-season call load requires it – operate as a floating ambulance.
“Before we started implementing ALS engines, a unit coming from out of district would be our next closest paramedic,” Carvey said. “Now at least you have an engine that will have full capability of advanced care that can be there in four to five minutes and enhance their quality of life in doing so.”
For more than two decades, the city has contemplated ways to operate both ambulance and fire services within city limits. Though briefly officials flirted with the idea of consolidating the fire department – as the city of Sarasota had done – and ceding all responsibility for emergency services to Sarasota County.
That fell apart after Sarasota County wanted the city to pay it roughly $4 million to cover depreciation of antiquated apparatus and facilities.
Funding had been an issue for the fire department, with personnel and vehicles absorbing the extra wear and tear from responding along with ambulances to emergency service calls without reimbursement from Sarasota County – which both assesses county taxpayers at a rate of 0.66 mills to fund emergency services and collects fees charged to consumers and typically paid by private insurance or Medicaid.
Consultants determined that Sarasota County received about $1.5 million in ambulance fees from Venice residents, as well as another $2.6 million through the millage.
In 2019, consultant Bob Holdsworth, president of The Holdsworth Group, estimated that the city could operate three ambulances and staff three fire engines with paramedics for about $3 million, leaving a surplus of just over $1 million.
The fees paid by insurance must be spent on ambulances, though a portion of the millage can be dedicated to fire department needs.
When the Venice City Council passed its 2020-21 budget last month, it included adopting the 0.66 mill increase to property taxes, though technically there is no way for the city to assess a dedicated millage as the county had.
Carvey stressed that city residents are paying roughly the same as they did before the city took over ambulance service.
The firefighter paramedics, who have 24-hour shifts, will rotate between serving on an ambulance and on a fire engine.
“We want to make sure we’re not burning out the employees sticking them solely on the ambulance,” Carvey said, then added the goal is for the paramedics to be proficient in all aspects of their job.
“It allows our department to train as one, and become more cohesive as a unit,” he later added.
A new mutual aid agreement with Sarasota County means that Venice-based units would first respond within city limits but may still go on calls in unincorporated Sarasota County on an as-needed basis.
“We both will still offer mutual automatic aid to each other’s departments,” Carvey said. “We don’t anticipate any change; we’re always going to assist each other.”
Having the additional firefighter paramedics also means there will be qualified personnel on the EMS side who can be part of community outreach efforts.
“There’s going to be a lot of benefits,” Carvey said.
Patients in need of critical care would likely be taken to the closest hospital, though Carvey noted that paramedics can share images of trauma or results of on-site EKG tests with the emergency physicians at the patient’s hospital of choice, which can improve response once patients are admitted.
The city has also worked out a response agreement with AirLife – the successor to BayFlite – for automatic dispatch on certain call levels, that would improve helicopter response time.
EMS Division Chief Nathan McManus, who worked as an EMS captain in Charlotte County before joining Venice, said he learned several lessons in Charlotte that helped him set up a successful transition from firefighters who were trained as emergency medical technicians to include paramedics.
“Being able to start a process from the ground up, vs. trying to change the culture has been a great learning experience for all of us to get the program started the way we wanted to from the beginning,” he said.
©2020 Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fla.