Vote to Change 9-1-1 Dispatch is Tuesday
Under the proposed change, firefighters and paramedics would no longer both be dispatched to minor 9-1-1 calls, such as those about a fall or a sick person. Dunedin officials oppose the plan.
Pinellas County Commissioners are voting on a resolution that changes the way firefighters and paramedics respond to emergency 9-1-1 calls.
The vote is the third phase in Pinellas County's effort to streamline its 9-1-1 dispatch system.
"We have the Cadillac of systems in Pinellas County, and we can no longer afford it. We need to get costs under control," said Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala.
Under the proposed change, firefighters and paramedics would no longer both be dispatched to non-life-threatening 9-1-1 calls, such as those about a fall or a sick person. Only ambulances would be sent to these calls. The 9-1-1 dispatcher would decide, through a series of questions, whether to send paramedics or firefighter-paramedics. The proposal suggests that the change would reduce the number of first-responder responses by 14,000 a year.
The average response time would be 2 minutes and 40 seconds longer, according to Maureen Freany, assistant county administrator, which would bump up the average response time for low emergencies to 7 minutes and 16 seconds for fire first responders and 10 minutes for an ambulance.
Latvala supports the change.
"Why haven't we done it sooner?" she said. "The No. 1 complaint from citizens is, 'Why do all these first responders come to a fender bender?'" she added.
However, not everyone in Pinellas County approves of the change.
Dunedin is among several municipalities that passed resolutions against the dispatch changes.
City officials spoke on the issue during an Aug. 23 public meeting at City Hall. They said they believe Phase 3 would cause a reduction in services to Dunedin residents who pay for city-funded fire services, that Dunedin residents should not be denied their services if their own first responders can get to the scene first.
Dunedin Fire Chief Bud Meyer said in August that sending fire responders to minor calls would not impact services in the event that a high-priority call came in at the same time.
Dunedin city officials unanimously agreed on Aug. 23, 2012, that they wanted to see the results of the EMS transport study before deciding.
The cities of Safety Harbor, St. Petersburg, Pinellas Park, South Pasadena and Belleair Bluffs also passed resolutions against Phase 3, as did the East Lake, Palm Harbor, Lealman and the Pinellas Suncoast fire districts.
Representatives from many Pinellas County fire departments presented their arguments against the change during a Dec. 6 county commission workshop.
Commissioners appear to have listened to their concerns, according to county documents:
"Staff was able to address the concerns raised during the Board Workshop on December 6, 2012 and through the various Resolutions received from Cities and Fire Districts. ALS First Responder Units will be notified, but not required to respond, to medical calls in the 'Phase 3' category. Individual departments or units may elect to respond to individual calls."
Not all fire districts are opposed to the 9-1-1 dispatch change. Largo, St. Pete Beach and Seminole fire districts passed resolutions supporting it.
Pinellas County documents say that previous changes to the dispatching system — Phase 1 and Phase 2 — have been safe and effective. Previous phases were:
- Consolidation of 9-1-1 dispatch into one location for an annual savings of $500,000 in April 2009.
- First responder unit sent to specific types of calls which reduced ambulance responses by 8,000 or 5.6 percent annually in December 2012.