Brent Batten: Marco sets ambulance process in motion
Call it Newton's third law on display in local politics.
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Collier County's effort to bring all emergency medicine in the county under one roof has spurred Marco Island to begin the process of seeking its own ambulance service, the exact opposite of what the county commission majority has been pushing for.
On Tuesday, Marco Island City Council members unanimously agreed to have the city staff delve into the mechanics of obtaining county and state permission to allow the island's fire department to provide not only advanced life support at the scene of an emergency, but the ability to take patients to the hospital as well.
As it stands, Marco firefighters can provide ALS under the guidance of Collier County's Emergency Medical Services, but only EMS ambulances can transport patients.
EMS's exclusive transport ability stands throughout the county. Even the North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District, which has been the primary battlefield in the ongoing debate, hasn't sought permission to transport patients.
Marco Island becomes the third area fire department to consider its own certificate from the county to do advanced life support. North Collier is in a legal battle with the county over the county's denial of its certificate late last year.
Immokalee Fire Chief Paul Anderson says his department will seek a certificate as well, adding ALS firefighters to the eastern district for the first time.
All of that goes against the grain of what commissioners said they wanted last year when they denied what up until then had been routine renewal of the North Collier certificate.
County Commissioner Tim Nance led the charge, arguing that having one system in North Collier and another for the rest of the county was inefficient. One medical director with one training regimen and set of protocols for the entire county would be better, he says.
A commission vote in January to put a nonbinding question on the March ballot was a tipping point, as far as Marco Island City Council member Larry Honig is concerned.
The question asks if voters support a single emergency response district covering all of unincorporated Collier County.
Voters in the cities of Naples and Marco Island don't get to vote on the question.
Honig said he fears Marco Island would lose its power of home rule if the concept proposed in the straw ballot proceeds and the unified district transfers assets away from Marco. "The fear that we have is the consolidation of the fire districts will become an unstoppable juggernaut and we will be the only jurisdiction not participating. That will not stand. We fear a declining service level," Honig said.
Marco Island councilors want the ability to decide how many ambulances and paramedics should be on the island, just as they currently have the ability to control how many police officers the city has, he said.
Councilman Victor Rios said the North Collier situation is partly behind Marco Island's actions. "The concern is that whatever happens in North Naples might eventually affect us," he said.
He recognizes that the county isn't in certificate granting mode. "There's no guarantee we're going to get it," he said.
As many as four seats on the county commission could change in November, altering the calculus on the subject.
But Honig said the council isn't waiting and hoping for a change.
City Manager Roger Hernstadt will report back to the council on March 7 on the certificate application process.
Hernstadt says the application process is a long one and just because the council gave direction to start, it doesn't mean it will follow all the way through. The county commission's future actions could cause the council to change course. "It doesn't necessarily mean we're going to jump in the pool neck deep. We just need to put our toe in the pool," Hernstadt said.
Assuming the county will turn down the certificate, council members also want to know what appeal process might be available to them, Honig said.
That could portend more legal battles. North Collier's lawsuit is based on what it claims was the county's inappropriate denial of its application.
Marco Island Fire Chief Mike Murphy said by refusing to grant the North Collier certificate to provide ALS firefighters, the county took about 100 people certified to do ALS out of the system. The rest of the county, including Marco Island, will have to pick up the slack, he said.
Hernstadt said Tuesday's action represents a big change for Marco Island but that it was the county's decision to try to consolidate emergency services that precipitated it.
"This is a huge paradigm shift but there's been no public meetings, no outreach. It's almost as if they're trying to fly this under the radar," Hernstadt said.
(Connect with Brent Batten at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter@NDN_BrentBatten and at facebook.com/ndnbrentbatten)