Fort Wayne Fire Department seeks takeover of ambulance service

If approved, the FWFD would begin the new model effective July 1, 2018

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) The Fort Wayne Fire Department will pursue a takeover of local ambulance services in a plan that its officials said will enhance medical services through quicker response times.

The fire department on Tuesday announced that it will take steps to assume control of all Three Rivers Ambulance Authority equipment and assets. If accomplished, TRAA would be dissolved and its employees would be offered positions with the Fort Wayne Fire Department.

“We manage the movement and the allocation of resources reach and every day. We do it in the most extreme circumstances. This is no different,” Chief Eric Lahey said.

As it stands, Fort Wayne firefighters provide emergency care on EMS calls – to the tune of more than 8,000 per year. The fire department said it arrives first at the scene of emergency situations more than 75 percent of the time. Paramedics, then, will generally take over that care when they arrive at those particular scenes.

With ambulance services under the direction of the Fort Wayne Fire Department, officials said Tuesday that a paramedic would be placed on every fire engine that would allow for advanced life support to be at an emergency scene sooner.

Gary Booher, TRAA’s executive director, defended his service’s capabilities, calling it among the nation’s best. He said he’s surprised and offended.

“Yeah, I think in a way, because we are very proud of what we do. Our medics are very proud of what they do as well,” he said.

Since it was formed in 1983, TRAA has never failed to meet or exceed the response time standards. Through August 2016, the service has a response time compliance of more than 93 percent for both life-threatening and non-life-threatening calls. TRAA’s average response time for life-threatening calls is between 5 minutes, 12 seconds and 5 minutes, 28 seconds over the last five years.

A TRAA study also found that the fire department arrived first at scenes 59 percent of time compared to TRAA’s 41 percent.

Booher said he doesn’t understand why city leaders would want to change the process.

“Does it make sense to change the system from a system that works to one that might work but it might not either? And, you know, we’ve kind of taken the position that that’s more experimentation and experimentation with people’s lives just isn’t a good thing to do,” he said.

Chief Lahey thinks they can do better.

“Get on the scene faster by putting paramedics on every engine, we can increase the number of ambulances and we can look at how we can improve employee working conditions by improving longevity getting ultimately better patient care,” Lahey said.

He also said their model includes new equipment, but no change in finances.

“No additional taxes, no additional expenditures on the system. We are going to be able to do all that within the same financial revenue streams that exist right now.”

They have different ideas, but both are motivated.

“We are all here and our medics are all here for this community, the patients we serve, and regardless of what happens they’re going to put those patients first. That’s what we’ve done for over 30 years and that’s what they’re going to continue to do,” Booher said.

“For us its about more efficient government and utilizing the resources we have right now in order to better provide a service for the citizens,” Lahey said

Still, the fire department’s plan will move forward.

The City of Fort Wayne will work to forge a cooperation agreement with Allen County to place county-wide ambulance services under the direction of the Fort Wayne Fire Department. If that agreement is brokered, an ordinance to establish a FWFD-operated ambulance system would be submitted to City Council.

If approved, the FWFD would begin the new model July 1, 2018, officials said.