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East Manatee Fire Rescue board to vote on paramedic plan

The Board of Fire Commissioners will discuss a scaled-down request to add paramedics over a four-year period.

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  • | 1:50 p.m. July 20, 2022
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A plan to add more paramedics to East Manatee Fire Rescue trucks will be considered July 25 by the Board of Fire Commissioners.

That discussion, and possible vote, was postponed from its scheduled July 18 date when East Manatee Fire Rescue Chief Lee Whitehurst couldn’t attend due to previous commitments, including a Florida Fire Chiefs Association conference.

Whitehurst said the upcoming meeting is intended primarily to serve as a discussion forum, though it has the possibility to produce a vote.

Fire Commissioner James Carlino said the plan is now being considered as a four-year plan, rather than the 10-year plan that had initially been proposed to fire commissioners. He said the plan, which lists a cost of $894,509 for fiscal year 2024, would offer two dedicated Advanced Life Support units on trucks that could ensure a paramedic firefighter on board on all shifts.

Initially, Whitehurst had been working on a 10-year plan, however, Carlino asked him to reduce the length of the plan to cut costs and to give fire commissioners a chance to examine results. Although the four-year plan would reach its objective by fiscal year 2025-2026, it is budgeted for 10 years as a result of the cost to maintain the services it would create.

Whitehurst said the reduction to a four-year plan altered the plan’s eventual goal of bringing ALS units to 11 East Manatee Fire Rescue trucks. The resulting plan has focused on bringing ALS units to two trucks at two different stations.

Whitehurst said the creation of the new plan followed the June 21 workshop on Advanced Life Support, an event which included presentations from individuals representing West Manatee Fire and Rescue District, Southern Manatee Fire Rescue, and North River Fire District. All currently operate ALS programs.


At the beginning

If approved, the plan would begin in 2023, with its first year focused on hiring and training staff in preparation to offer ALS services. Eight current firemen would receive training to become paramedic certified and would join with new hires who already have paramedic certifications.

The second year of the plan would continue those activities, and would see East Manatee Fire Rescue acquire necessary certifications including a Manatee County Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, as well as a non-transport license, the required paramedic certification from the state.

During years three and four, the rescue would continue to hire and train staff, and would also launch its ALS units. The third year would establish one ALS unit at Station 5 at 59th Avenue East off Lorraine Road, while the fourth year would start the other at Station 1 on Lakewood Ranch Boulevard, north of 44th Avenue East.

The estimated cost of the plan is approximately $1 million per year.

One of the biggest costs in initiating the program will be buying defibrillators for the newly certified paramedics, as well as fast-response medical vehicles resembling pickup trucks, which would allow paramedics to arrive at the scene ahead of firefighters.

Whitehurst said staffing will be a major cost. He said the ultimate goal of the plan is to introduce at least 18 certified paramedics to be assigned to the two trucks.


More firefighters

He said across its four years, the plan would provide for 12 firefighters, at three per year, to become certified as paramedics through a nine-month program.

He said the plan will require the addition of three firefighters to fill in for firefighter absences due to paramedic training. It will also require the addition of a medical training officer to serve as program manager.

Whitehurst said it is up to the board’s discretion how they would like to cover the cost. However, he said to implement the full program, the board would have to either raise taxes or cut back on other expenditures within the fire district.

He said the board has the authority to raise taxes on non-ad valorem taxes up to a state rate of personal income growth that is usually between 5% and 6%, but would have to go through the state Legislature to raise the amount further.

He said on the ad-valorem tax side, revenues are currently capped at $1 million, a number which cannot be changed without a voter referendum during the regular election cycle.

At-large County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said budget increases for East Manatee Fire Rescue would not require approval from an outside authority within the county, since the fire rescue is a special taxing district. She said the district is permitted by Manatee County to initiate actions including the addition of staff members and paramedics.

Carlino said he was not concerned about spending on the plan.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel,” he said. “We’re not doing anything that three other fire departments in Manatee County haven’t done, so it’s definitely attainable, and I think we’ll have no problem.”

He said more staff are needed anyway, especially with the coming addition of Station 9 on State Road 64 east of Lorraine Road.

The idea of adding ALS has not been without its detractors. The motion to hold the ALS workshop on March 21 passed 3-2, with Commissioners Bob Conley and Garry Lawson voting in opposition.

At the time of the meeting, Conley stated current staff members had not taken advantage of paramedic school despite it being offered, while Lawson cited concerns around funding and the economy, as well as East Manatee Fire Rescue’s accountability through the Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability report.