March 25, 2008
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Orange County ends Rural/Metro contract, to allow firefighters to take over ambulance transport duty
Christine Show and David Damron | Sentinel Staff Writers
March 19, 2008
Orange County leaders voted unanimously Tuesday to dump a private ambulance company and take over the service using firefighters.
Fire officials and the Orange County Comptroller's Office said taxpayers could net $6 million to $13.8 million in added revenues over five years by taking over the service from Rural/Metro Ambulance.
Company officials questioned those projections and said commissioners may regret the takeover move later.
Currently, county firefighters are the first to respond to emergencies in unincorporated Orange County. Rural/Metro workers arrive later and take patients to a hospital. But sometimes, Rural/Metro workers are tied up or arrive late, and firefighters handle hospital transports as well.
County leaders liked the added revenue potential but also wanted a more seamless system so patients were not handled by multiple emergency responders.
"Even if we just break even, I think the continuity of care is worth it," Commissioner Bill Segal said.
County firefighters already handle both patient response and hospital transport in the north and east parts of the county. One smaller slice of the west side of the county is served by another company.
Dozens of firefighters applauded the commission's decision. Many said the takeover was necessary for the well-being of patients.
Jason Brown, president of the department's union Orange County Professional Firefighters, said the workload will increase, but the plan, which takes effect Oct. 1, will smooth out the transport process.
"We no longer have to wait for commercial services to come. There won't be any delay," he said. "It will bring better service for the community."
A Rural/Metro executive said Tuesday's unanimous vote reflected takeover support from the firefighters union, a sometimes potent political force.
"There was clearly a short-term political decision" at play, said Rural/Metro official Robert Heffner.
The company declined to release its Orange County revenues.
Rural/Metro manager Roger Duryea said the loss of county patient-transport business would not put its workers out of jobs, saying they would be added to crews that handle the contracts for hospitals and the city of Orlando.
A spokesman for Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said there are no plans to drop Rural/Metro, but officials will watch how the county's takeover plays out.
Christine Show can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-5735. David Damron can be reached at 407-420-5311 or firstname.lastname@example.org