A proposal to allow coastal fire departments to transport patients within their jurisdiction was met with mixed reviews during a Collier County commission workshop on Thursday.
Collier County commissioners met for more than five hours with about two dozen fire and emergency services officials to discuss everything from consolidation and fire plan inspections. But it was a discussion about whether to allow the Naples, Marco Island and North Naples fire departments to merge ambulance services already operating within county that sparked the most debate.
"We look at this from the standpoint of one thing: Saving lives," said Chris Lombardo, chairman of the North Naples fire commission. "Our motives are simply this: We as a group must do what's best for the citizens of this community. We need to stop doing things that would undermine the confidence in the public of these agencies."
The concept, according to a presentation, would keep the same number of ambulances in Naples and North Naples, but would add one to Marco Island.
While ambulances and crews currently work for the county's EMS system, under the three departments' proposal those crews would work for the fire department instead. They would then service each individual jurisdiction, while Collier County EMS would continue to provide service for the rest of unincorporated Collier.
Supporters said they believe they would be able to provide the service for less than the county currently does, but Lombardo said the issue isn't money. Instead, the plan would allow Collier County to allocate more resources to eastern Collier, where response time is often slower, officials said.
"This is the first time I've seen the concept that is presented, but I think our body would be open minded enough to have the county (look into it)," said Pam Brown, an Immokalee fire commissioner. "Please go along with this concept and be open minded."
Despite support from the nearly two dozen fire commissioners and chief's at Thursday's meeting, Collier County commissioners were initially hesitant to ask county staff to study whether the concept — or something similar — would work.
"Let me make an observation: There is nothing I've heard that is new," Commission Chairman Fred Coyle said.
No new revelations, however, didn't stop commissioners from ultimately directing staff to begin meeting with stakeholders to come up with a plan for the future. Commissioners came to the 2-1 consensus to forge ahead with a study to see what options are available.
The decision came after Commissioner Georgia Hiller urged her fellow commissioners to step up to the plate and make a decision.
"Let's develop this further," she said. "We need to get the ball rolling. It's been 25 years of stagnation and its ridiculous. People are dying."
Coyle and Commissioner Tom Henning were not present during the discussion. Commissioner Jim Coletta said he would not support moving forward at this time. Instead, he said commissioner should hold off until next commission meeting.
"I'm willing to listen, to bring it back at a next meeting so we can give directions that are clear and direct," he said.
The contentious meeting came just one day after fire commissioners in three of Collier County's largest independent fire districts unanimously directed their staffs to look into whether consolidation was possible. Golden Gate fire Commissioner Chuck McMahon said fire chiefs will be asked to update a previous consolidation study, and look into cost savings and efficiencies of full consolidation.
But McMahon said there was no guarantee consolidation would occur.
County officials will now begin working with emergency services, fire and hospital officials to work on a plan to improve the county's EMS system.