Fire district consolidation hot topic at Collier, legislative leaders' meeting

Just once did Collier County leaders break from their “bring home money” mantra during a joint meeting Wednesday with Southwest Florida state legislative delegates.

It was to advocate for or against legislation that would enable independent fire districts to consolidate and appoint their own medical directors.

The 2010 legislative session opens March 2, but House and Senate committees began meeting Oct. 5. Collier commissioners and some community leaders asked legislators to kill the proposed bills.

Neighborhood Health Clinic co-founder Nancy Lascheid, representing the Collier County Medical Society’s 530 physician members, said pre-hospital medical decisions “must remain under the vigilance of physicians and only physicians.”

“As those who are educated, trained and totally committed to health care in Collier County, we are strongly opposed to the legislative initiative being undertaken by the local fire departments,” she said.

North Naples Fire Commissioner Jim Burke said he was somewhat bewildered by opposition to the legislation.

“This cockamamie system we have in Collier County (has) 10 different (departments). It is outmoded, antiquated and inefficient financially,” Burke said.

Burke contended that 80 percent of the nation is served by a fire-based integrated fire-emergency medical service (EMS) system.

Attorney Laura Donaldson worked on the bills for more than a year.

“We just want to have our own medical director. Lee County has five medical directors and they all work together, and it all seems to work,” Donaldson said. “We’re trying to make this work.”

County lobbyist Keith Arnold asked Donaldson if exemptions from general law can be presented in a local bill.

“Most local bills are exemptions from general law,” Donaldson said.

Productivity Committee member Janet Vasey said she doesn’t oppose consolidation.

Setting up separate EMS protocols is problematic, she said.

“When you look at providing the pre-hospital medical care, the really important part is getting the meds,” Vasey said. “If you’re going to be giving these life-saving meds, you have to give them over and over again (and) most are given in the ambulance going to the hospital.”

That’s why area physicians are concerned, Vasey said.

Chairwoman Donna Fiala said she was troubled by the turn taken over consolidation talks.

“I’ve heard some accusations that the fire departments (were) trying to take over EMS,” Fiala said. Commission told fire districts that if they consolidate they can take ambulance services, Fiala said.

“All of a sudden, fire departments were being accused of trying to take over EMS (and) we were the ones who asked them to do it,” Fiala said.

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