City fire trucks are used much more often for medical calls than for fires.
Palm Coast and Flagler County duplicate each others’ EMS services — a costly inefficiency — and the city hasn’t been able to meet its goal of an EMS response time of five minutes or less, Palm Coast Fire Chief Mike Beadle told the City Council at a Nov. 24 City Council workshop.
The report Beadle gave before the council was requested by council members and city staff frustrated with repeatedly sending out city fire trucks to respond to 911 calls that are overwhelmingly medical. Fire trucks are expensive to run and maintain, and it would be cheaper for the city to send ambulances.
But Palm Coast can’t do that, because under Florida, law, municipalities need the permission of their county to run an ambulance service, and Flagler County has resisted granting the go-ahead to Palm Coast. That might soon change — Sen. Travis Hutson and Rep. Paul Renner have filed legislation to give cities more opportunities to go their own way — and the city is considering its options.
“All I want here is to look at, fairly and reasonably, how t o reduce the cost if possible to the residents of Palm Coast,” City Councilman Steve Nobile said at the workshop.
The city got 8,040 calls for service last year, Beadle said, and had an average response time of 6.25 minutes for the medical calls and 6.44 overall.
Beadle spelled out some possible options: The city could change its response protocols, he said, so that a “medical” call, for instance would come in with more information that would help emergency responders prepare for the patient.
The city could also use “jump trucks” — small emergency services vehicles that look more like pickup trucks sporting campers than like ambulances or fire trucks — in order to handle the EMS calls. The problem with that idea, he said, is that any staff members on the jump truck would then be unavailable if an actual fire call came in. They would have to return the jump truck to the station and switch to an actual fire truck before heading out again. To be fully staffed, the city would have to hire more EMS workers.
The city could also add ambulances at each of its fire stations.
Or, he said, the city could change the tax structure to lessen taxes on city residents — an approach that would likely shift more of the burden to the county.
Other possibilities include consolidating the city/county services into one entity, or improving coordination between the city and county so that the city doesn’t need to run fire trucks on a medical call.
Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts suggested the city and county meet about the issue. “My goal is not to shift the burden to somebody else. My goal is to reduce the burden for everybody,” he said.
County Administrator Craig Coffey, who attended the meeting along with County Fire Chief Don Petito and County Commissioner Nate McLaughlin, said he’d heard some proposals he could work with the city on.
City Manager Jim Landon said the two administrations would meet, then arrange for a meeting between the City Council and County Commission.