Florida Fire Officials Sue to Provide ALS

The North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District has sued Collier County commissioners for the right to provide advance medical treatment to patients before ambulances arrive.

The district, which serves about half of the county’s population, contends commissioners didn’t give fire officials a fair hearing last month when they denied their application for an advanced life support certificate.

Fire officials also say the county’s rules governing certificates are too vague to give any entity that applies for one a fair chance of receiving it.

“Collier County acted in an arbitrary manner in basing its decision on a personal bias based on consolidation or political concerns,” the district argues in its complaint filed this month in Collier County Circuit Court.

The district asks that a judge order commissioners to issue the certificate.

The two sides still are meeting to try to hash out an agreement that both could live with, but any agreement likely would have to include an advanced support certificate, said fire Commissioner Jim Burke.

“If we have the certificate, then we can agree to put a county paramedic on our truck so they can get training as a firefighter or come up with things like that to accommodate each other,” Burke said. “But if the board of commissioners doesn’t grant the certificate, it all falls through.”

The fire district has been practicing advanced life support under a certificate for the past five years.

Fire engines routinely beat ambulances to emergencies, and commissioners have renewed the district’s license to use the treatment each year with little controversy.

But this year, North Naples fire merged with the Big Corkscrew Island fire district, expanding its boundaries into Golden Gate Estates.

When fire officials sought last month to renew the certificate, which will expire Jan. 1, they also sought to expand it to the former Big Corkscrew area.

Commissioners voted down the renewal request, 3-2, saying it would fragment patient care.

Without an agreement or a court ruling, the 75 paramedics of the North Collier fire district would not be able to practice advanced life support next year. They would be limited to basic treatment such as CPR and using a defibrillator until paramedics on a county ambulance crew arrive to use advanced treatment such as regulating airflow or starting an IV.

All of the ambulances in Collier County are run through the county’s emergency medical services department. County officials long have argued it is better to have fewer highly trained paramedics practice advanced support than many.

“We need to make sure protocols are standardized and unified and that the training is consistent throughout the county,” said Commissioner Penny Taylor, who voted with Tim Nance and Tom Henning against issuing the certificate.

If no solution is reached by the end of the year, North Collier residents will receive advanced life support only from the county. Until five years ago, the county was the sole provider of such treatment in North Naples for many years, Taylor said.

“We’ve done this before. We can do this again,” Taylor said. “We stand ready in the county to put our folks up there if we need to.”

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