The Summit Board of County Commissioners on March 11 ratified changes to the county’s mutual aid agreement with the Red, White & Blue Fire District of Breckenridge.
Under the new agreement, RWB will be the first agency to respond to 911 calls for ambulance service in its district, which covers 140 square miles between Hoosier Pass and Frisco town limits.
Summit County Ambulance Service (SCAS) will assume simultaneous and second-call coverage inside the district, beginning around May 1. Currently, SCAS has first-call status throughout all of Summit County, including inside the Red, White & Blue Fire Protection District.
SCAS will also continue to assume primary ambulance service for patient transports between medical facilities, including from the St. Anthony Breckenridge Community Clinic Emergency Center to the St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco, and continue to provide all out-of-county transports. SCAS has expressed concerns about possible cuts to resources or staff under these new changes.
Paramedic Chris Meyers said in a letter to the Summit Daily News that he has worked for SCAS since 2006, and was concerned about the possibility of removing an SCAS ambulance from the fleet.
“If in an attempt to save costs they remove an ambulance, the ability of the current EMS service to maintain a timely level of response will be severely diminished,” he said.
RWB chief Jim Keating stressed that the fire department has a long history of playing a role in EMS services, and that this is not something new.
The fire department has run medical calls in the district since 1976, Keating said. In 2005, it transferred from volunteer and part-time to a full-career department. At that time, there was an emphasis on upgrading EMS services, which included hiring paramedics and providing training to some of the paid staff, Keating said.
Currently, there are 41 operational staff members, 13 of whom are paramedics. The firefighters all are trained to at least an EMT level.
RWB bought two ambulances in 2006 to respond to in-district scenes.
“Usually we were the first people there, so we would stabilize and package the person somewhere while the Summit County ambulance arrived, and they would do the transport,” Keating said.
The fire department first entered into an agreement in 2009 with SCAS, saying anytime there were no available SCAS ambulances in the county, the RWB medical unit would respond and transport anywhere in the county. Keating said this resulted in 30 or fewer transports annually, but still meant spending a lot of time on stand-by.
While the RWB has enough staff to run both ambulances, it must also maintain an adequate firefighting force, Keating said. At the main facility, there are usually two paramedics on staff every shift, he said, one at the Blue River station and one at a third station.
Keating said this ensures there is always a paramedic available, even if, for example, the EMT-trained firefighters had to drive the medical unit to respond to a call in Blue River.
The RWB ambulance Medic 6 is part of the current system, Meyers emphasized. He said the service already is struggling to keep up with current call volume. He said the current $460,000 deficit is only a small part of a $57 million operating budget.
SCAS operates as an enterprise fund, which means it is intended to support itself using revenue raised from insurance reimbursements to pay for the paramedics, drivers, equipment and training.
However, in the past two years the service has been supplemented by Summit County government funds.
“There are many ways to realize cost savings in a budget,” Meyers said. “If we have one less ambulance the response times will increase. A two- to three-minute increase in response time will make all the difference in the world when you or one of your loved ones is not breathing.”
Having first-call status has encouraged his staff to undertake more training, Keating said.
“We have definitely ramped up the quality and training programs,” he said.
Keating said because Breckenridge taxpayers already pay for the service, it does not add a new cost for the added resource to the system. RWB offered the services and resources it currently has in place.
“It’s a collaborative relationship,” Keating said. “It will hopefully be better service at a lower cost, a more efficient use of our current resources.”