No answer yet on ALS

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Group to hammer out details

By Mark Scohier, Staff writer

Well, folks, it's agreed: Saving lives is a good thing.

That was the message Tuesday night at a public workshop between Levy County and City of Chiefland commissioners on the topic of establishing non-transport advanced life support (ALS) services with Chiefland Fire Rescue.

Both commissions, as well as about 70 audience members met at Chiefland's Tommy Usher Center for about two hours to debate the issue, which has been raging on for more than a year.

Chiefland officials say ALS will save lives by allowing Chiefland Fire Rescue personnel access to life-saving medications and equipment, as well as allowing them to perform certain procedures to stabalize a patient before an ambulance is able to make it to the scene.

The general sentiment from the public Tuesday night was that the two entities just needed to "get it done," repeating over and over that a dollar amount can't be placed on lives.

And both sides said they were willing to work toward a solution, appointing several representatives to look into the details and agreeing by consensus to keep meeting in the future to weigh the possibilities.

But there are a few roadblocks.

The biggest, according to several county commissioners, is how to pay for it.

"Who wouldn't want ALS ...?" County Commissioner Chad Johnson, of Chiefland, asked, admitting that if one of his family members had an emergency he'd want as much help as they could get.

"The issue is getting the funds," he said, and can various groups agree to a level of service that potential funding could pay for?

Chiefland Vice Mayor Teresa Barron, who is over CFR and has had the most to do with ALS negotiations with the county, said ALS wouldn't cost anything more, other than whatever equipment would be needed up front.

Barron said CFR already has first responders certified as paramedics on staff that are trained in ALS and that being ALS certified would not increase the department's call load.

"... Our budget will not being going up," she said.

County Attorney Ann Bast Brown said the issue was more complicated than that, explaining that most of the funds used to pay for fire services could not, legally, be used to subsidize EMS personnel.

Granting ALS status to Chiefland could negatively fire assessment apportionment, she said. It's not a fair apportionment, she said, "and that could undermine the assessment program."

City of Chiefland Attorney Norm Fugate said there are ways around the way the assessment is structured, especially if no additional funds are required.

"If we want to try to get this thing done, we can get it done."

Mayor Teal Pomeroy brought up the fact that 95 percent of CFR's calls are medically related, having nothing to do with firefighting.

Brown said those calls fall under first responder, not EMS, and are considered part of fire service.

"It's not that the money is not enough," she said," It's that the services are changing."

"This is done all over the place," Fugate said, again saying it was possible to accomplish.

Johnson said he believed it was possible to find a way, though, he added, the litigious nature of people is another concern, one that would have to be dealt with in a "creative" way.

Brown also said there are other expenses Chiefland officials were not taking into account, such as the cost the county incurred in hiring consultants to determine what the county's current assessment should be.

County Commission Chair Ryan Bell reminded those in attendance that the night's meeting was not about figuring out all the answers, but more about agreeing to forge ahead and come up with a plan and weigh the options.

Both commissions, to public applause, agreed to move forward. No date, as of yet, was set for the next meeting.