Suspended Panama City First Responder Services Won’t be Back

"EMS is not going away in the city, what will be changing is the level of service offered by the city. That decision is certainly reserved to the city ... but it's not up to us to pick up those services for them,” the county manager said.

by Patrick Mccreless, The News Herald, Panama City, Fla. / July 26, 2019
Panama City Beach Police Officer Noel Howard runs radar on Back Beach Road traffic in Panama City Beach, Fla. AP/Heather Leiphart

(TNS) - Bay County will continue to provide emergency ambulances, but won't add some of the first responder services Panama City plans to suspend.

County Manager Bob Majka said some confusion has arisen in the community over the county's emergency medical services role after the city's announcement last week that it would suspend some of the Panama City Fire Department's EMS first responder service. The county doesn't offer first responder service to cities and won't change that policy for Panama City, Majka said.

"One of the emerging parts of this is the thought that if the city's service goes away, then the county will cover it, but first responder is a separate level of service from what the county provides," Majka said. "We don't provide those services in any municipality."

Since 2016, the city's fire department has provided EMS first responder care in conjunction with the 911 emergency ambulance services the county offers. As part of the first responder service, city firefighters have responded to emergency medical calls, often by sending a fire truck with firefighters who have EMS certification. Those firefighters typically provide basic medical care to patients if an ambulance has not yet arrived.

"EMS is not going away in the city, what will be changing is the level of service offered by the city," Majka said. "That decision is certainly reserved to the city ... but it's not up to us to pick up those services for them."

In a statement released last week, City Manager Mark McQueen wrote that he had decided to suspend the fire department's EMS services so it can focus more on firefighting and safety. There will be no layoffs because of the change.

No date has been set for when the suspension will start. Also, officials haven't yet decided if all EMS services will be suspended or if the fire department will just respond to serious medical calls and not more minor ones.

In the City Commission's Tuesday meeting, McQueen elaborated on why he felt the fire department should scale back its EMS services. McQueen said firefighter fatigue could be reduced, thereby improving fire safety for residents, if the department cut back on EMS calls.

McQueen said the fire department has seen a 200 percent increase in its call volume since adding the EMS service.

For instance, of the more than 6,000 calls the department responded to in 2018, 64% of them were EMS-related. So far this year, the department has had 2,077 calls, 64% of which are again for EMS services.

"And when this practice was adopted, there was no plan for future staffing or equipment," McQueen said.

McQueen said he is committed to the fire department and wants it to continue providing a high level of service, but at the same time will make difficult choices to help it and other departments in the city if necessary.

"If we always do what we've always done, we'll always get what we've always gotten," McQueen said.

Mayor Greg Brudnicki showed support for McQueen, saying he didn't remember the city having a great need for more EMS care before 2016.

"I'm not aware of us not getting quality level of care," Brudnicki said. "And there's a lot of duplication in what we're doing now."

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©2019 The News Herald (Panama City, Fla.)

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