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Saturday, May 8, 2021

Proposal could end firefighters’ response to medical calls in The Villages

Bradley Arnold

A proposed plan floated by Sumter County Administrator Bradley Arnold could end The Villages Public Safety Department’s response to medical calls in The Villages.

The proposal comes at a time when Sumter County’s private ambulance service American Medical Response, has been under heavy criticism, much of it from residents of The Villages, for slow response times.

Arnold has indicated Sumter County will be looking into eliminating the response of the fire departments within Sumter County to all medical calls for 911 service. In The Villages, the vast majority of calls are related to medical issues, due to the age of the population.

The Professional Firefighters of The Villages are sounding the alarm in response to Arnold’s proposal.

The Professional Firefighters of The Villages are concerned about a county proposal that would eliminate their ability to respond to medical emergencies in The Villages. 

When a resident calls 911 for a medical emergency a unit is sent from the closest fire station and also the closest available ambulance. This ensures that the patient has a paramedic trained in advanced life support getting to them as quickly as possible. The proposal that is being discussed by Mr. Arnold would eliminate the response of the fire department units to these types of calls and only have these units used for fire-related emergencies,” the union said in a statement issued Sunday.

An elderly man was airlifted due to a medical emergency in 2019 from an empty field next to Walgreens at Colony Plaza. The Villages Public Safety Department was on the scene.

The proposal would place the entirety of medical 911 calls in the hands of the private, for-profit company, AMR. A major problem faced by the ambulance provider has been short staffing.

“Imagine for a moment, your spouse or loved one having a medical emergency such as chest pain, a stroke, or going into cardiac arrest and no ambulance can get to you for over an hour due to this company not having anyone to send,” the firefighters’ union said in its statement.

Under the current system, a fire department unit with trained paramedics and EMTs would have arrived within four minutes, the average response time of The Villages Public Safety Department.

Personnel from The Villages Public Safety Department and Sumter EMS responded to a medical emergency in March that involved a dragon boater near the dock area behind the Waterfront Inn.

“The only difference is that due to bureaucratic regulation these fire departments are not allowed to provide ambulance services within Sumter County. That is because within the state of Florida the county government controls who provides ambulance services and in the case of Sumter County they have elected to go with a private, for-profit company. If you take a look at how these services are provided throughout the rest of the state and even the rest of the country you will see that the overwhelming majority of municipalities choose to provide ambulance services either through their fire department or through a municipality-run EMS system,” the union said.

The union has accused Arnold of being more concerned with protecting the for-profit AMR than about the community.

The Sumter County ambulance service, operated by American Medical Response, has faced heavy criticism due to lengthy response times.

“We, the Professional Firefighters of The Villages, provide a higher level of care due to our commitment to this community that we have proudly served for over 20 years. We have a vested interest in and love this amazing community. Our response times, cardiac arrest save rate, and ISO rating are among the top in the nation. There is NO private provider that is going to come close to providing the service, care, or compassion that we provide day in and day out. It is our honor to serve the fine people of The Villages and you should not have to accept any lesser level of service,” the union statement said.

The union is encouraging residents to speak out a county meeting set for 7 p.m. May 18 at Everglades Recreation Center in The Villages.

In the meantime, residents can go online to communicate their thoughts on the matter directly to public officials:

County Administrator Bradley Arnold

352-689-4400

[email protected]

Sumter County Commissioners

[email protected]

[email protected]

[email protected]

[email protected]

[email protected]

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