July 28, 2014

Elyria
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911 response shakeup had been floated

ELYRIA — Top city officials discussed the possibility of having the county’s 911 operators dispatch the Elyria Fire Department to medical emergencies before LifeCare was called, according to an email sent by then-Assistant Safety Service Director Dan Jaykel in February.

“Thank-you (sic) for the reminder pertaining to the letter requesting Elyria Fire being dispatched before Life Care on medical emergencies,” Jaykel wrote in his reply to an email sent by Lorain County Administrator Jim Cordes inquiring about the status of the idea.

“I briefed Mayor (Holly) Brinda and (Safety Service Director) Mary Siwierka on the issue along with the liability concerns,” Jaykel continued in his Feb. 6 email. “Currently, we are scheduling a meeting to discuss the best course of action for the City. As soon as a decision is made we can author a letter with our request and send it out.”

Both Brinda and Siwierka said Tuesday that despite the email, dispatching firefighters before ambulances was never under serious consideration by Brinda’s senior staff. Brinda said the idea was discussed in the city, but never came close to being a reality and no letter requesting the change was ever sent.

“There was not an effort by the city because I told Mr. Jaykel that’s not what I wanted,” she said.

The surfacing of the email chain between Jaykel and Cordes comes as Brinda’s administration is renegotiating the city’s 17-year-old contract with LifeCare.

Brinda had been considering scrapping the contract with LifeCare and turning the responsibility of handling EMS calls over to the Fire Department, which could lose up to 23 firefighters when a federal grant expires late next year or in 2015. She has said a recent state performance audit indicated a Fire Department-based EMS could generate more than $1 million in revenue for the city.

She said Thursday that option is no longer on the table.

“The idea of going to fire-based EMS is dead,” Brinda said.

Brinda’s interest in fire-based EMS led to a unanimous City Council vote last month that called for her to stop looking into the idea and focus her attention on renewing the contract with LifeCare.

Brinda said she wants to limit the number of medical calls the Fire Department goes on to save money, although that change has not yet been implemented.

The tour

Brinda said Jaykel asked the question about whether the Fire Department could be called before LifeCare near the end of a tour she, Jaykel and Siwierka took of the county’s 911 Call Center on June 7, 2012. Siwierka said the question never should have been asked.

After the trio left the Call Center, Siwierka said Brinda made it clear to both her and Jaykel that the idea was to be dropped.

Cordes said the idea came up during a discussion Brinda and her staff had with him and then-911 Director Robin Jones during the tour. He said he remembers the conversation clearly because Jones was adamant that the county wouldn’t change how it dispatched medical emergencies.

Cordes said he told the Elyria contingent that the county would be willing to work with the city to accommodate any changes they proposed.

County 911 Director Tracy Slagle, who took over for Jones earlier this year, said the long-standing policy at the agency is to first dispatch what a caller asks for, which in the case of a medical emergency would be an ambulance.

She said because Elyria firefighters also respond to many medical emergencies, 911 dispatchers try to alert the Fire Department either simultaneously or immediately after LifeCare is called. Slagle also said that on occasion dispatchers have mistakenly sent firefighters on a medical call before LifeCare was notified and those dispatchers were later corrected.

Cordes said ultimately he told city officials that if the city was willing to assume the liability for sending fire trucks to a medical emergency before ambulances, the county could accommodate that request.

“I finally decided if the city wanted a certain method of dispatching that was different than our protocols they would have to take responsibility if something happened,” Cordes said.

Siwierka said she isn’t sure what prompted Cordes to send Jaykel, who left his job for medical reasons in February, an email seven months after the tour. She also said the idea wasn’t being discussed in February because Brinda had ordered the matter dropped after the tour.

Calling 911

Councilman Mark Craig, I-4th Ward, said Thursday the only reason he can think of to have the Fire Department called before LifeCare for a medical emergency would be to boost the Fire Department’s response time at the expense of how fast LifeCare arrives at a scene.

“I can’t think of another reason to do it,” Craig said. “I know that it would impact response times.”

Call response times are among a large quantity of records Assistant Safety Service Director Bruce Shade has demanded that LifeCare turn over to the city.

A 2009 report on the Fire Department produced by the McGrath Consulting Group showed that LifeCare arrived on scene after firefighters 55 percent of the time. The report also concluded that LifeCare arrived before the Fire Department 25 percent of the time and simultaneously 20 percent of the time.

“The consultants were surprised by the fact that LifeCare was able to arrive either prior to or at the same time as the fire department 45% of the time,” the report said. “The consultants anticipated that, with the fire department responding from three (sometimes four) locations, the fire department would arrive first more often.”

Elyria Fire Chief Rich Benton did not return a call seeking comment Thursday.

LifeCare President Pete de la Porte said he was pleased to hear that any discussions about dispatching the Fire Department to medical calls before LifeCare have been nixed.

“If that would have happened that would have really endangered the people of Elyria,” he said.

Craig said the move would have been similar to an edict that came down from City Hall in March 2012 that bars the Police Department from calling LifeCare or the Fire Department directly.

“In the past if we needed to contact Lifecare (sic) or the Elyria Fire Department we would call them direct,” police Lt. Ronald Junker wrote in an email to dispatchers explaining the new policy. “In the future if we need assistance from either Lifecare or the Elyria Fire Department we are to call 911 and make the request and they will contact either Lifecare or EFD.”

Craig said the rule adds an unnecessary layer between the request for service and when the Fire Department or LifeCare is dispatched.

“It creates an additional delay,” he said.

Brinda, however, said it makes more sense to have 911 serve as a neutral third party to decide what services should be dispatched to an emergency scene. She said she was concerned because the Police Department previously had a scattershot policy with 911, LifeCare or the Fire Department being called at different times.

“At the time it needed to be clarified,” she said.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.

  • Mark

    I would hope a small ambulance could beat a large diesel fire truck. We are talking the tortoise and the hare here…

    What needs to be decided is which is more important on the scene first. Medical aide – which they both provide, or the transport vehicle.

    Does the minute it takes to place the call(s) really matter in the end?

    • Ray Venn

      Does the firetruck take them to the hospital to the people who provide expert medical care? NO

      Also, if you think minutes don’t count in an emergency, you couldn’t be more wrong.

      As adults we need to evaluate a situation quickly. An automobile accident with entrapment requires the immediate response of the fire department a person falling off a ladder needs Lifecare, so does a heart attack.

      The important thing is for us all to have pre-programmed into our cellphones the appropriate numbers for the FD, PD and Lifecare direct.

      • AShame.

        The important thing is to call 911. Who are you to decide what help you need first? Are you trained in emergency medical dispatch, they are. Don’t call fire departments direct they may be out and not answer the phone, what help is that. 911 is there for a reason. Fire trucks will often arrive on scene first with medical supplies because they are located around the city. Lifecare is down town and has a long way to come for North Elyria. What ever your stance is on this whole thing, always call 911

        • Ray Venn

          There is ALWAYS someone in the communications center at both Lorain and Elyria FD. How do you think 911 contacts them? Did you see the stats regarding who arrives first at a call? It’s certainly not “always” the FD like you say it’s almost 50/50 as to who arrives first.

          In Lorain, they have ambulances all over the place, returning from calls, at Mercy and so on. I believe that an ambulance would get there much quicker than a firetruck in an emergency.

  • JCW

    And Brinda swings and misses … again!

    With all of her touring and ‘information gathering’, one has to wonder if she has even bothered to visit LifeCare … inquiring minds wanna know.

  • Mark B

    The best thing you can do if you need a ambulance is to just call Life Care directly, leave LC911 and the Fire Department completly out of the loop. When y ou call LC911 they are going to ask you , police , fire or ambulance along with several more questions, then connect you to Life Care and y ou are going to have to tell them whats wrong all over again. By Calling Life Care direct you can save a couple minutes right off of the bat and you wont have to deal with EFD and play along with the ganes they and the city are playing. Do yourself and your family a favor and set up a speed dial directly to life care or have thier number posted at every phone . The city politics should not be a facor in you getting help in the fastes manr possible. But as a note dont call EFD direct as they may be sleeping and have the phones turned off and they will need to be Toned out by 911 to wake them up or by Elyria Police .

    • Bob Haas

      You have it wrong Mark. First when you call 911 for an ambulance they no longer connect you to the service and then have you explain things all over again. They may keep you on hold while they pass the info on to lifecare in case they need more info but in most cases you do not speak directly to lifecare. Second, If you call the fire department direct the call still goes to 911. In many cases the fire department can make a difference by getting there first. Such as a full arrest. (Cardiac arrest) or severe bleeding, etc.

      • dreamweaver

        YOU GUYS DONT EVEN MOVE IN LORAIN

    • guest

      you do not get connected directly to lifecare when you call LC911…you do not speak to lifecare when you call LC911…and you do not have to repeat the problem when you call LC911

  • Scott

    Lets send firetrucks to medical emergencies and lets spend millions to change the traffic pattern at the mall to take customers to a empty mall. If you want me to vote for a tax renewal or increase you need to start spending the money you have a little better first…

  • sameold song and dance

    i heard the squad is usually on scene way before the fire trucks because they are dispatched pryior to the firemens being notified

  • sameold song and dance

    plus the firemens dont have the life saving eguipment on da fires trucks and have hired a bunch of paramedicks that can t perforrme there talents because of it

  • Rosie Pluto

    They become paramedics because its higher pay. Elyria doesn’t have the equipment but pays firefighters to become paramedics. Geez why doesn’t Elyria stop that to save money both in training and salary.

  • givemeabreak1234

    aii I know for sure is politic do not belong I life saving situations! the mayor needs to keep her nose out of such situations what they need to investigate is how many lives were put in jeporty because they sent firefighters instead of lifecare. if my family member lost their life because lifecare wasn’t call I’m not sure who I would sue first but I’m sure the mayor would be first on my list… just saying