EMSA Warns against TFD Ambulance Service Plan

EMSA denies that the fire department can save the city money


Shannon Muchmore, World Staff Writer | | Friday, August 19, 2011

TULSA, Okla. -- Giving the Tulsa Fire Department responsibility for emergency medical services in the area would result in increased costs and less medical expertise with no incentive or guarantee for good results, officials with the current service provider said Wednesday. "We've got a world-class system here," said Steven Williamson, CEO of the Emergency Medical Services Authority. Dennis Moseby, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 176, said EMSA has its facts wrong and maintains that it could provide more efficient ambulance service in the area.

Mayoral Chief of Staff Terry Simonson said last week that Mayor Dewey Bartlett is listening to both organizations and is in close talks with the mayor of Oklahoma City and the mayors of other cities in the Tulsa area that rely on EMSA. Every five years, the city reviews the performance of EMSA and determines whether to change the operator of emergency medical services in the area. This window of opportunity is open until October.

Since 1996, the Fire Department has proposed shifting to a fire-based ambulance service. In this year's proposal, the department suggests retaining the paramedic company EMSA contracts and adding some ambulances staffed entirely by firefighters. The department said this would generate $3.14 million in income in the first year, but EMSA officials said that revenue would be more than offset by the startup costs the department would have to pay to take over ambulance services.

EMSA, which also operates in the Oklahoma City area, owns the 49 ambulances that circulate in the Tulsa area. If Tulsa pulled out of the authority but Oklahoma City stayed in, the authority would retain the ambulances and other assets, Williamson said. Moseby said that isn't true and that the ambulances would stay with the city if it took over the trust, although EMSA officials said that might not be legally feasible. Neither EMSA nor the Fire Department could immediately provide documentation to back up their assertions.

Williamson pointed out that the infrastructure costs for EMSA are divided between the two areas, with Tulsa paying about 46 percent of those costs. The Fire Department maintains that consolidating administrative services and training with the city would save money. Figures provided by EMSA show a cost of $284.70 per response in Tulsa - less than in cities such as Tucson, Ariz., Memphis, Tenn., and Omaha, Neb., which have fire-based systems.

Michael Baker, director of emergency services for the Fire Department, said the proposal does not call for a fire-based system but a trust managed by the Fire Department. Williamson also said Fire Department emergency medical workers have less experience than the paramedics EMSA employs. Moseby said many firefighters work for EMSA on their days off, and he disagreed that quality would be compromised. The authority is a public trust overseen by a board of trustees that includes several members appointed by the mayor. It also has an independent medical director and is subject to several independent audits, Williamson said.

"We're highly responsible," he said. "Being responsible to the taxpayers doesn't mean you have to be under a city department."

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