Guest commentary: Emergency Services — The Future

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By Jim Burke

Pelican Bay Commissioner, North Naples Fire & Rescue District

“When you make the past your jailer, you destroy your future” (John O’Donohue).

I have frequently opined that the emergency services (fire, rescue, medical) organizational model within Collier County is antiquated, fragmented and not as effective and financially efficient as it could and should be.

I have also opined that we, within Collier County, would be best served by a single-source, independent, all-hazards, first-response model with one uniform medical transport and within a common command.

Consider the following:

* Over 90 percent of the population within the state of Florida receives their first-response emergency medical services, including Advanced Life Support (ALS), from a fire rescue agency.

* Over 70 percent of the Florida population receives all of their emergency medical services, including ambulance transport, from a fire rescue agency.

* Three counties — Collier, Lee and Escambia — are served by partial fire-based Advanced Life support (ALS) first response. That means some residents benefit from fire-based ALS and some, unfortunately, do not. Depends upon where they live.

The transition, in Florida, to fire-based emergency medical services is a national trend as the following points out:

All but five of the 200 most populated American communities have fire service delivering pre-hospital emergency medical services.

Fire service agencies provide critical ALS response and care in 90 percent of the 30 most populated American cities.

The long-term trend described above causes us to ask why such large percentages of the Florida and USA populations have turned to their fire departments to provide total emergency medical services, including ambulance transport.

The following points may help to answer the question:

The mission of the fire service is to protect and save lives and property. There are no other conflicting agendas.

Pre-hospital 911 emergency response is an essential public safety function. Fire fighters are dedicated to public safety.

Fire stations are strategically deployed throughout the community to minimize response times which is the top priority for medical emergencies.

Ninety-five percent of career fire departments provide EMS at some level- ranging from first-response defibrillator to ALS with transport.

Eighty percent of career firefighters are cross-trained, multi-role firefighter/EMTs (emergency medical technicians)

Thirty-four percent of career firefighters are cross-trained, multi-role paramedics.

Career firefighters (EMTs and paramedics) respond to 911 medical emergencies for more than 85 percent of the USA population.

Pre-hospital 911 emergency response is not only a key function of each community; it has become, almost universally, a principal duty of the fire service.

As a fire commissioner elected by the 93,000 residents of the NNFD I am committed to seeking the most financially efficient means by which to deliver effective fire, rescue and emergency medical services. My commitment causes me to challenge and understand today’s circumstances and to use that understanding to move into the future — a future that the over-whelming majority of Floridians and Americans are already experiencing. This is a major public safety issue and you will be hearing much more from me on this topic.

The opinions expressed above are mine and not, necessarily, those of my fellow commissioners.

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