Louisville EMS sounds alarm as fire districts pull back on medical runs
Starting Tuesday, 13 fire districts will only respond to the highest-priority medical emergencies. (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Metro EMS Medical Director Neal Richmond (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Kevin Tyler (Source: WAVE 3 News)
LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – Several suburban Louisville fire districts will pull back from all but the most serious medical calls starting this week, a decision that top-ranking emergency officials cautioned would put lives at risk.
Starting Tuesday, 13 fire districts will only respond to the highest-priority medical emergencies, said Kevin Tyler, the executive vice president of the Jefferson County Fire Chiefs Association.
The decision means Louisville Metro EMS ambulances, which typically dispatch from further away, will often be the only ones responding to calls for help. While response times will increase, the suburban districts were never supposed to handle the call volume they currently take on, Tyler said.
"Over the years, (the amount of requests) have increased," Tyler said. "We've taken on that responsibility. We're at the level now where, we've got to let them know, the glass is full. We can't take on any more."
Budgets are tight and the state for decades has capped the amount of tax money that Jefferson County’s suburban districts can raise at 10 cents for every $100 in taxable property, Tyler said.
Tyler said the group of suburban fire chiefs made the decision in mid-June to follow through on a vote they took a year ago to cut back on non-critical emergency responses.
Louisville Fire Department and fire districts in Anchorage, Harrods Creek and Eastwood will continue the current level of service, while the other 13 districts will cut back.
It takes Metro ambulances an average of three minutes and 18 seconds longer than suburban fire trucks to respond to a medical emergency in Louisville’s suburbs, Metro EMS Medical Director Neal Richmond said. He said the first-responding fire truck takes about five minutes to arrive.
“We’re not asking the suburban fire districts to respond across the county,” Richmond said. “This is a block from your fire house. This may be your friend, your mother, a loved one (at risk).”
In recent weeks, Tyler, Richmond and representatives from Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer’s office have been negotiating to maintain service.
Tyler’s organization turned down a $1 million offer that the suburban districts would split as a way to offset costs. The amount was far too low, Tyler said.
“A million dollars might sound like a lot, but it doesn’t go far in this day and age, with the services we provide,” Tyler said, suggesting that it would equal $43 for every additional run that firefighters would make, including all non-emergency call across the suburbs.
John Stovall, who represents dozens of EMS workers as Teamsters Local 783 president, wrote in a memo to Metro Council members that the decision “will impact the mortality rate of our citizens.”
“Our response times will be slower, we’ll (EMS) get the black eye in public, and the public will suffer,” Stovall said in an interview.
Richmond said his EMS workers could face safety hazards in some situations without assistance from firefighters, such as when they attempt to carry an obese person down a flight of stairs to an ambulance.
In addition, at least 500 cardiac arrest calls in Louisville’s suburbs were misclassified as lower-emergency runs last year, Richmond said. Those wouldn’t qualify for a fire truck response under the change.
“There has to be a way to solve this without hurting our friends and loved ones,” Richmond said.
Tyler and Richmond said they were willing to continue negotiations, even as the change takes effect.