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Ky. fire department audit to provide EMS will be first of 14 for city

OWENSBORO, Ky. By November, city leaders are hoping to have a detailed, in-depth look at the operations of the Owensboro Fire Department as the city begins the process of conducting operational audits of each of its 14 departments.

Fire Chief Ronnie Heep said he is looking forward to the audit, which could begin next month and will take several months and $50,000 to complete.

"We hope we're doing well. We want to be," Heep said. "I think they probably will have some very good ideas for us."

Along with a review of current services, the consultant will also take a look at what it would take for the fire department to provide ambulance service inside the city, a move other cities around the state have taken.

City Manager Bob Whitmer said the city's contract with Yellow Ambulance, which provides ambulance service inside the city, is up next year, so it makes sense to see whether it would be beneficial financially and operationally for the fire department to take over those duties.

"We would be remiss to not study the possibility as our contract expires in 2008," Whitmer said. "I have no idea whether it's a good idea or a bad idea."

The decision to conduct operational audits of all city departments was made this year after the newly elected City Commission named the audits as a priority.

It can be useful to have an outside group come in to take an objective look at how city departments operate and expend their resources, although Whitmer said he is confident in the way city departments are being run.

"I welcome that, that outside source reviewing our operations," Whitmer said. "I think with operational audits and accreditation procedures, we are learning whether we meet national standards."

According to the request for proposals, which was published last weekend, the audit will look at 11 areas of the fire department's operations, including management, workloads, its training program, staffing levels and revenue.

The second section of the audit will cover emergency medical services, including the fire department's policy of responding to medical emergencies that went into place last year. The third section will study the benefits and costs of having the fire department take on the role of providing ambulance service.

Heep said earlier this year during a city budget work session that an initial look at the possibility has shown that 16 additional staff members, including paramedics, would be needed to provide four ambulances to the community.

Financially, the city would not recoup enough in revenue from the services to cover expenses, Heep said at the time. About 50 percent of fire departments nationally also provide ambulance services, but that rate is probably lower in Kentucky, Heep said.

Heep said Friday that although he believes firmly in the benefits of firefighters also providing ambulance service, the cost could be prohibitive.

The completion of the audit should also give the fire department an examination of its capital resources and whether the placement of its five fire stations allows it to adequately serve the community.

"We're concerned about whether we're located where we can offer the best coverage," Heep said.

The deadline for proposals for the operational audit is June 28, and Whitmer said he is hoping to have a consulting company selected within a week or two of that deadline, with the audit beginning some time next month.

"I feel like we're very good," Whitmer said. "If they have some productive suggestions, we welcome them."

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