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Ambulance dilemma puzzles fire officials

ASHLEY DICKSONsummit daily newsSummit County, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY The Red, White and Blue Fire District once again has asked to use two $116,000 ambulances it purchased last year, but the department needs permission from the county, which has its own ambulance service.Right now we respond to all medical emergencies and, if its in our area, we get there several minutes before the ambulance arrives, said Red, White and Blue Fire Chief Gary Green. Although we initiate patient care, we dont have the authority to take the patient to the hospital. So getting a license would allow us to follow through and stay with that person the whole time.But some officials worry that two ambulance services could have conflicting priorities and complicate emergency care.Our views arent really the same at the end of the day, said Summit County Ambulance director Sean Caffrey. Our primary responsibility is patient care, and Red, White and Blues view is a lot more geographical in nature. They exist to protect a certain area and, once the patient is at the hospital, that person isnt their responsibility anymore.He also questioned whether the Breckenridge-based fire department would be able to continue care when patients are transferred out of the county. Medical calls constitute roughly half of Red, White and Blues responses, and last year the department invested in two ambulance-style vehicles because they are more maneuverable and fuel-efficient than larger ladder fire trucks, according to Green.While fire-department paramedics often provide initial medical care, they must turn patients over to the ambulance service to get them to the hospital. We think we are better positioned, have the right vehicles and have the same quality paramedics, Green said. Its not like this is a new concept or a new service level, were simply finishing the job we start when we arrive on the scene.The department applied for an ambulance license with the county last November but put the proposal on hold to allow county officials to explore if added coverage is even necessary. Right now, we need to take a broader look at how ambulance services is provided in the county, county manager Gary Martinez said. Things to consider are the fiscal impacts and what it would mean to our current service levels.Summit County Ambulance Service has a fleet of eight ambulances, which respond to all medical emergencies within the county. Three of those ambulances operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, two rotate during peak seasons, and three ambulances are used as spares. We dont lose any sleep over our current ambulance coverage, Caffrey said. Historically, the ambulance has always done joint response with the fire departments. We rely on them quite a bit.Green believes that an ambulance license for the fire department wouldnt change the system already in place in Summit County, but rather a new service would help in providing better coverage and continuous patient care. The costs for the new ambulance service would be relatively low, given that it is a service the fire department already provides, Green said. But it could effect the funds available for the existing county-funded ambulance service, Caffrey noted. The money we get from our transport runs is what funds our department, he said. If we were to carve out a separate slice for just the Breckenridge area, it puts a quarter of our budget in jeopardy.Funding for emergency response already is tight, and the addition of another ambulance service could have both positive and negative effects, according to Martinez. We have already had an outside expert look at Red, White & Blues application, because we need to fully realize the impact on the county, Martinez said. We are still deciding if this is something we want to look at, so nothing has been agreed to.Red, White & Blue officials are anxious to begin discussion about how to coordinate a new ambulance service with the existing county system, but they will have to wait for a green light from the county commissioners, the only group responsible for issuing the license. We feel like we have pretty strong support, and were just trying to work through the ins and outs of the impact on the system as it exists, Green said. As it stands today, there is no doubt modifications need to be made, so were ready to get some movement on this. Ashley Dickson can be reached at (970) 668-4629, or at adickson@summitdaily.com.


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