At the other end of 911, agreement on a plan - FOX 13 News

At the other end of 911, agreement on a plan

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ST. PETERSBURG (FOX 13) -

Seconds matter in life-and-death medical decisions, and people in Pinellas County will now have time on their side.

After years of debate, Pinellas County Commissioners and the fire chiefs of 18 separate fire districts agreed on a new emergency medical services plan.

"At the end of the day, we'll still have the finest EMS system in the United States," said commission chair Ken Welch.

He is not exaggerating: the Pinellas system usually delivers a first response firefighter/paramedic crew in under five minutes. Then a private contractor transports patients to hospitals, and the first responders are available for the next call.  

Consultants and others refer to it as the "gold standard," and at more than $2 million a week, it is expensive.  

That became an issue when the great recession slashed property tax revenues, at one point threatening to bankrupt the system. The search for savings, possibly at the expense of response times, ignited a heated debate.

That quietly ended Thursday morning at a county commission workshop.

"I think it's been a long time in the making," said Chief Robert Polk, president of the Pinellas Fire Chiefs Association.

The fire chiefs and commissioners embraced a new consultant's plan that presumably finds enough savings to maintain the existing standards while achieving financial stability.  

County Administrator Bob Lasala said he could have an outline of what needs to happen next by the end of the year.  With 18 different labor contracts involved, full implementation could take two to five years.

But a majority of commissioners indicated their sense of urgency to get it done.  

"The sooner it's implemented, the sooner we save dollars, the sooner we save dollars, the sooner we become sustainable," commissioner Susan Latvala said.

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