Parmley: Red, White & Blue Fire approach disappointing (column)
May 28, 2017
Although I had hoped to read about the many successes of combining EMS resources in Summit County since 2015, it was disheartening to learn about Red, White and Blue Fire District's continued resistance to a collaborative approach to emergency medical transport services in Summit County.
Across the country, there is a growing trend to functionally consolidate fire and emergency medical services. In many communities, this has proven to be an effective strategy to better meet the needs of the community with existing public assets and funding. Lake Dillon Fire District, where I served as chief until I retired in 2015, has been working diligently with Summit County Ambulance Service in recent years to pursue such strategies. Copper Mountain Fire, too, actively participates as a partner in this effort. Both of these entities are to be commended for looking at the bigger picture as to what is best for meeting the EMS and fire protection call load in serving our citizens, both residents and visitors alike, throughout Summit County at a value that the taxpayers find to be justifiable and acceptable. This is no doubt one of the principal reasons why the authority to license ambulances in Colorado rests with County government.
These types of partnerships are not novel to those working in the fire and emergency services world. We have always operated with mutual aid agreements that allow us to deploy resources dynamically and flexibly, without tripping over jurisdictional boundaries. The protection of life and property is always our primary goal, regardless of the ZIP code or residency status (full-time or visitor) where the emergency occurs. Unlike many other communities on the Western Slope, Summit County's citizens, combined with a strong resort economy, have consistently supported and funded career firefighter/medic staffing levels which are further leveraged through automatic aid agreements in effect between all of the fire and emergency services entities.
I fully appreciate the fact that building a multi-jurisdictional emergency services authority in Summit County is not easy work. There are a great many details to work through including budgets, crew schedules, deployment protocols, training commitments and billing, to name a few. And finding the answers requires compromise by all parties to achieve the balance necessary to meet all of the EMS needs in Summit County. But this hard work is worth doing, because it's good for patients, and it's good for taxpayers.
Lake Dillon Fire and Copper Mountain Fire have both agreed to full and equitable participation in the transport of critical patients to out-of-county medical facilities on a rotating call basis. This is arguably one of the toughest and most resource-intensive duties that EMS personnel perform. Nevertheless, it is their duty to respond when a patient's life is on the line. If Red, White and Blue stands by its stated position that it will not participate equitably in the out-of-county transport rotation, it leaves the other three agencies to pick up the additional slack. This creates a greater burden on the Summit County, Lake Dillon and Copper Mountain EMS resources.
This position is in light of the fact that Red, White and Blue has decided to add new EMS equipment and personnel resources to the system, without seeking some level of consensus from the other EMS provider agencies in order that such additions can effectively be utilized in the overall system. This move is contrary to the goal of the partnership built upon open communication and collaboration to identify efficiencies and to respond to opportunities of mutual interest.
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If you apply the same logic that Red, White and Blue has put forth regarding out-of-county patient transports and the short-term impact on staffing levels, then how can the district justify authorizing resources to be deployed out of district on wildland fire assignments for multiple days or weeks? The likely answer as to why this is the right thing to do is based on the fact that the depth exists to not only backfill for the deployed firefighters, but automatic aid also exists to provide the additional resource support when at times firefighter staffing may be tight for any number of reasons. The experience gained and additional training required has a return value to Summit County as well. I would submit that this is also true for participating in inter-facility ambulance transports.
I would respectfully encourage the Red, White and Blue Board to reconsider its position and examine carefully the inherent value that has been achieved for the overall community through the EMS collaborative process in Summit County.