A brief budget discussion held recently by McMinnville officials could be the beginning of the end for McMinnville Fire Department’s first-responder program.
The proposed budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year was distributed Tuesday night. It came with a transmittal letter from city administrator David Rutherford.
“I made recommendations,” he said, of the letter. “I will go ahead and tell you probably the one that will cause the most controversy this year is a recommendation to eliminate the first-responder program.”
In the letter, Rutherford sites several problems with the program:
• First-responders work under the oversight of the county’s Emergency Management Service and only provide basic first aid while waiting for the county’s EMS to arrive on the scene.
• In 2010, first-responders went out on 1,334 calls. However, 16 percent were not transported for medical assistance.
• First-responders cannot transport.
• The number of first-responder calls appears to be high for a city our size.
“At least three major discussions with the county EMS director and the director of 911 have been held to change the protocol for first-responders to be dispatched,” said Rutherford in the letter. “It does reduce the number of calls for a short time then the calls increase.”
He added, “It appears the county EMS wants the city first-responders to run all the calls within the city to be on the scene having taken vital signs and assist with loading. A recent example of this occurred in early May when police officers on the scene requested an ambulance and after EMS was dispatched EMS requested that first-responders be dispatched also. There are other examples of misuse of our first-responders by the county EMS.”
Since the program began in 2008, the department has lost two firefighters due to injuries as first-responders.
“The program has been reviewed every six months or so to try to work out the problems and issues that might arise regarding the number of calls and what we respond to,” said Rutherford.
“It has now been three-and-a-half years and there have been many attempts to change operations, but to no avail,” Rutherford wrote.
He recommends eliminating the program effective July 1.
“If the city is truly interested in providing emergency medical services, then a thorough investigation of the potential costs and liabilities of operating such services should be undertaken. Expenses for ambulances and trained emergency medical technicians (EMT) and paramedics will be significant.”
He added, “There are some opportunities to recover cost of program and staff from insurance if the city did provide the complete program. Without all the above facts, it would not be wise to make such a recommendation at this time.”
After the meeting, Vice Mayor Everett Brock explained that the city can’t seem to gain any control over which calls the program responds to in an effort to keep any more firefighters from being injured.
“The problem is this is a city-funded program, but it is under the control of Warren County’s Emergency Management Service. If they say come, we have to go. We can’t say no,” said Brock.
Brock says he is on the fence about the program’s future.
“If we can get some kind of control over this program for the safety of our firefighters, I would like to keep the program. If we can’t, I’m for shutting it down,” he said.
McMinnville firefighters feel the program is worth keeping.
“The medical first-responder program is a critical program which has saved many lives in McMinnville,” said Brad Weaver, president of the McMinnville Firefighters Association. “The ambulance service incurs the program’s medical supplies cost. The city of McMinnville only pays a small percentage for the overall cost of the program, which averages to be less than $1 a day. I strongly believe the city’s cost is worth the lives that have been, and will continue to be, saved. This program directly affects the health and well being for the citizens of McMinnville and to terminate such a valuable life-saving program would be detrimental.”
A Finance Committee meeting has been set for Tuesday at 6:45 p.m. at city hall to review individual departmental budgets and begin the process of making changes. Once set, it must go before the full board for its consideration.