December 20, 2014

Elyria
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Elyria to limit Fire Dept.’s emergency responses

ELYRIA — The city plans to scale back the number of emergency calls Elyria firefighters respond to in an effort to save money and wear and tear on city fire trucks.
Mayor Holly Brinda explained the need to limit the city’s first responder program in an open letter she penned to residents explaining her negotiation plans with LifeCare Ambulance Inc., which has provided service in the city for years.
The letter was written in response to backlash directed at the mayor for what many see as an attack on a private company and her attempts to find an alternative source of funding for the Fire Department, which is in jeopardy of losing 23 firefighters when a federal grant runs out in late 2014 or early 2015.
City Council has entered into the debate by unanimously adopting a resolution in support of LifeCare and discouraging Brinda from doing anything that would be perceived as trying to take work from LifeCare in favor of the Fire Department.
Brinda contends she is just trying to update a 17-year-old contract while ensuring residents are getting the best emergency medical service.
“I have never stated my intent is for the Fire Department to take over EMS from LifeCare,” she wrote. “I do not have enough data to make that determination. … While I agreed with the (state) Auditor in March that the city should at least explore the costs and benefits of all four options outlined in the audit, my administration has only explored the re-negotiation or re-bidding option because Elyria City Council has said it will not approve fire-based EMS.”
And now it seems as if the Fire Department will be involved in even fewer EMS calls.
Brinda said the cost to the city to have paramedic firefighters respond to emergency calls is approximately $200,000.
“A total of 70 percent of the Fire Department’s workload is for first responder calls and to assist LifeCare Ambulance,” she said. “Given the current economic conditions, the city can no longer afford to respond to the majority of these first responder calls in costly fire trucks that consume large quantities of fuel and depreciate with each trip, not to mention the cost of medical supplies.”
A timetable for when the department will scale back service was not provided.
Fire Chief Rich Benton did not return a call for comment.
Brinda said the switch would be done only once the city is satisfied LifeCare can handle the workload.
“That’s why we have requested the amount of information we have from LifeCare as well as the same information from the Fire Department. We have some financial concerns facing the city and we have a commitment to reducing cost wherever we can while providing quality services,” she said.
Protocols will have to be developed to establish when the Fire Department will roll, but Brinda said it only will be for the most critical calls and when the firefighters’ expertise in rescue is needed.
LifeCare President Pete de la Porte said the switch will not hurt the city.
“We’ll be perfectly fine and we have the track record to prove it,” he said. “If you ask us, it’s a very good idea. The city does not need to spend the $200,000. They can spend that money somewhere else.”
De la Porte points back to the period between April 2009 and the middle of 2010 when layoffs and station closures forced the department to scale back service.
“For more than a year, we did all the first responding and nobody even noticed the Fire Department wasn’t there,” he said. “And, because there were no big trucks on the scene, our response times were even better. It was easier for us to approach scenes and get out of there.”
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.