Summit Daily editorial: Stop the feuding — it’s time to consolidate emergency services
The feud between Summit County government and the Breckenridge-based Red, White and Blue Fire Protection District has come to an acrimonious end — and it appears everyone loses.
The county says it will have to shift resources from Frisco to Breckenridge, increase staff hours and lean more on other fire districts for assistance. Meanwhile, Red, White and Blue is barred from using its three ambulances to make hospital transports except for in life-threatening emergencies.
How this will impact patients isn’t yet clear. However, judging from statements made by officials on both sides of the dispute, it is far from an ideal scenario. RWB chief Jim Keating said that the county is “biting off more than they can chew.” Assistant county manager Sarah Vaine characterized it this way: “Any way you slice it, it’s better if we have Red, White and Blue as a full partner.”
County officials maintain that their ambulance service, along with a helping hand from the Lake Dillon and Copper Mountain fire districts, can tackle the additional workload. We hope that’s true, but the conclusion to this standoff is far from encouraging.
To outside observers, the controversy appears to be a petty turf battle, a power struggle in which neither side will give an inch. RWB claims the county is attempting to prop up its cash-strapped ambulance service by exerting greater influence over Summit’s three independent fire districts, which each have their own tax base and elected board of directors. The county argues that regional cooperation is necessary to make the system more efficient and responsive.
In particular, the county has blasted RWB for shirking its responsibility to assist with out-of-county ambulance transports. The fire district, on the other hand, argues that such transports are a time-consuming and morale-killing drain, which perhaps explains why it does so few of them.
Of the roughly 700 out-of-county ambulance trips each year, RWB handles about 5 percent of them. That’s 35 a year. The dismal stat underscores why the county’s frustration might be justified.
We understand RWB’s reluctance as an independent governmental entity to be under the county’s thumb. Right or wrong, however, we fail to see who benefits from the fire district’s refusal to play along, or, for that matter, the county’s heavy-handed move to cut them out altogether.
We doubt taxpayers care all that much whether the county is usurping RWB’s authority or not. In the end, what we all want is an ambulance to arrive quickly when we need it. This rift has eroded the public’s confidence that will happen.
Although it now appears less likely than ever, we feel it’s imperative that officials on both sides now do what they can to clear the air and begin the work of consolidating emergency services. Endlessly warring clans are the last thing we need when it comes to public safety.
The Summit Daily editorial board consists of editor Ben Trollinger, publisher Meg Boyer, a reporter and three citizen members.
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