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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.