A Jan. 15 county decision to only send ambulances to minor 911 calls could soon leave Dunedin fire-paramedics unable to respond those incidents in their own backyard.
Pinellas County says in the third phase of Medical Priority Dispatch, only an ambulance unit may be dispatched to specified non-emergency medical calls. The dual response from a fire unit and ambulance, as well as lights and sirens, will continue to be used for high-level emergencies, according to a news release sent after the Jan. 15 Board of County Commissioner vote.
In essence, firefighters and paramedics would no longer both be dispatched to non-life-threatening 911 calls, such as those about a fall or a sick person. Only an ambulance would be dispatched.
County officials believe the change, which goes into effect June 1, would save the county 14,000 first-responder responses a year and keep fire vehicles available in the event of a higher-priority call at the same time.
A county official told Dunedin commissioners in August that the change would cause response times for minor calls to increase an average of 2 minutes and 40 seconds, but it would help decrease the time it takes for responders to reach the truly urgent calls.
The idea did not sit well with Dunedin officials.
Dunedin commissioners maintained that their residents should not have to wait longer for services they pay for through city taxes if their own first responders, who are geographically closer, can get to the scene faster.
Dunedin was one of several cities, including Safety Harbor, St. Petersburg, Pinellas Park, South Pasadena and Belleair Bluffs, along with the East Lake, Palm Harbor, Lealman and the Pinellas Suncoast fire districts, to vote against the county plan.
Dunedin Fire Chief Jeff Parks said Pinellas County's Jan. 15 vote allows him time to work with City Manager Rob DiSpirito on how best to respond in Dunedin.
"Our current thoughts are that we will continue to respond in a non-emergency status to make sure that a medical unit arrives in a timely period," Parks wrote in an email Jan. 16 to Dunedin Patch.
Dunedin Fire Department's current average response time is 4 minutes and 27 seconds, excluding "downgrades," Parks said.
The Medical Priority Dispatch plan, according to a county news release, has rolled out in two previous phases:
- In the first phase, implemented in April 2009, the emergency medical dispatch function was transferred to the 911 Center.
- In the second phase, implemented in December 2010, medical emergency 9-1-1 calls were assessed to dispatch only fire department units in non-emergency situations when a multi-emergency response was not appropriate.
Largo, St. Pete Beach and Seminole fire districts passed resolutions supporting the county's third phase.
- Vote to Change 9-1-1 Dispatch is Tuesday
- Officials Want More Time to Discuss Firefighter's EMS Plan