Thomas Ratchford

Thomas Ratchford

The following column is a collective statement from the Professional Firefighters of Citrus County.

During the most recent BOCC meeting, the sustainability of Nature Coast EMS was once again a major topic of discussion.

Currently, Nature Coast EMS is the provider of Emergency Medical Service and medical transport for the county. Citrus County Fire Rescue also provides Emergency Medical Services to the citizens of Citrus County; however, they are not affiliated with Nature Coast EMS. Both respond to Emergency Medical incidents and provide advanced life support level care. Nature Coast EMS is responsible for transporting patients to the hospital.

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Recently, Nature Coast EMS has struggled greatly to meet the emergency medical needs of the citizens. This is due in large part to a recent exodus of over 20 employees. Fewer employees mean fewer available ambulances. This has led to 210 status zero notifications in August. This means that there were 210 instances of no available ambulances in the county in the month of August.

When there are no ambulances available in the county, ambulances from surrounding counties are called in for assistance. Marion County Fire Rescue, Levy County Fire Rescue, Hernando County Fire Rescue and Sumter County have all been called to assist Nature Coast EMS so much in the last two months, that they are now starting to refuse these calls for assistance as it has become a burden on their response systems.

Your Citrus County firefighters have worked alongside the men and women of Nature Coast EMS since 2000. We have developed a positive working relationship with the organization. We respect and honor the work of these dedicated employees and rely on their success.

This has made witnessing the struggles of Nature Coast EMS and their employees even more difficult.

These struggles have a negative impact on more than just Nature Coast’s employees. Fire Rescue’s response capabilities are reduced significantly every day due to prolonged on scene times, waiting on a limited number of ambulances. The citizens who rely on the efficiency of the EMS system are also suffering. Citizens who require emergency medical care having to wait 30 minutes to an hour just for an ambulance to arrive has recently become a regular occurrence in this county.

This shortfall in the care provided by Nature Coast EMS is unacceptable and has already had a major impact on the citizens of Citrus County. The time has come for Citrus County to bring EMS under Fire Rescue. The citizens of Citrus County have suffered enough and will continue to suffer until this change is made.

The fire-based EMS system is not a new concept. Most of the counties in our state already incorporate a fire-based EMS system, including our neighbors Marion, Levy, Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco, Alachua, Orange and Polk. This is due in large part to the many benefits of a fire-based EMS system, including:

  • Increased efficiency 
  • Improved effectiveness 
  • Streamlining purchasing 
  • Consolidation/disbursement of supplies 
  • Improved training opportunities 
  • Omit duplication of services 
  • Enhanced services 
  • Reduced costs 
  • Cost avoidances 
  • Standardization 
  • Potential reduced ISO (Insurance Services Office) rating 
  • Improved customer service  

The modern American fire service incorporates a fire-based EMS system. Until Citrus County implements a fire-based EMS system, our obsolescent service model will continue to require Band-Aids in the form of subsidy increases and bailouts at the cost of the citizens.

Citrus County Fire Rescue, if given the opportunity, will be able to produce a comprehensive plan to bring EMS services under the county.

Some of the decision-makers for this county have recently argued Nature Coast EMS is still our best option without reviewing or requesting any plans that Fire Rescue may be able to produce for them. If the decision-makers of the county valued and supported the EMS mission, they would be open to considering a fire-based EMS system. 

Thomas Ratchford is president of the Professional Firefighters of Citrus County International Association of Firefighters Local 4562.

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