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Some Fear Ambulance Rotation Will Fatigue Firefighters

FORT WORTH-- The City Council approved an agreement Tuesday to put city firefighters on two MedStar ambulances to help the emergency transport service with a staffing shortage.

But city officials said they are concerned that the off-duty firefighters could easily become exhausted from working overtime.

Firefighters typically work 24-hour shifts and get 48 hours off. Those who volunteer for ambulance duty will work 48 hours straight, with an ambulance shift either before or after a regular Fire Department shift.

"I'm very concerned about the extra work that those individuals are going to be doing," Fire Chief Rudy Jackson told council members Tuesday.

The problem

MedStar has failed for two years to meet its goal of responding to 90 percent of Priority 1 calls -- those that are life-threatening -- in less than nine minutes. On Sept. 6, MedStar missed its nine-minute goal on 24 Priority 1 calls. It took more than 20 minutes on nine calls; one call lasted more than one hour.

MedStar is understaffed by 16 of 77 paramedic positions and 22 of 77 emergency medical technician positions.

Stopgap measure

The council approved a $10,000-a-day spending measure to pay firefighters to staff six Fire Department brush trucks to aid MedStar during peak demand. The latest agreement will put two firefighters -- one paramedic and one EMT -- on each of two otherwise-idle MedStar ambulances that will be stationed close to a fire station.

MedStar is also paying its off-duty employees $200 bonuses plus overtime to fill empty weekend and night shifts and $150 bonuses for other shifts. The bonuses have helped fill the shifts, and response times have improved over the past two weeks, said Assistant City Manager Joe Paniagua.

Because of that improvement, city officials have opted not to accept a proposal from CareFlite, a private operator, to handle MedStar's nonemergency transports.

What's next

The Area Metropolitan Ambulance Authority, which operates MedStar, is reviewing its operation to consider its deployment strategy, whether a third-party contract could be used for nonemergency transports, and how to improve recruitment and retention.

Fort Worthand 14 other participating cities may consider bolstering MedStar's subsidy of $1.4 million, which accounts for about 10 percent of its revenue. Patient bills are discounted based on participating cities' public support.

Anthony Spangler, 817-390-7420

aspangler@star-telegram.com

To see more of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to www.dfw.com. Copyright (c) 2007, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For reprints, email tmsreprints@permissionsgroup.com, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA

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