Lexington council votes against discussing reduction of ambulance staffing levels

Lexington's Urban County Council on Tuesday narrowly rejected a motion by Councilman Doug Martin to discuss reducing staffing levels on ambulances.

Martin, who has called for greater fiscal responsibility and reallocation of resources at the fire department, made a motion to put the subject of ambulance staffing in the hands of the council's Public Safety Committee. He said that reducing the number of staff per ambulance from three firefighters to two would allow the city to put more ambulances in service at any given time.

"That really is our choice. We put three (firefighters) to a buggy and have fewer buggies, or can we put two to a buggy and have more," Martin said. "I would support more buggies, because it's going to reduce our response time."

Council members voted 8-7 against Martin's motion to discuss the issue further.

Martin raised the issue following a presentation from Councilman Bill Farmer, who said there has been a drastic increase in medical calls in the last four years, and a slight increase in response times.

Firefighters made about 10,000 more medical runs in 2011 than in 2007, according to data presented by Farmer.

The findings came from a council task force that examined aspects of the fire department's operation. The task force issued a report Tuesday which suggested ways to improve operations, such as increasing recruitment of women and minorities and restoring valuable paramedic training, which the department ceased in 2008.

The task force also recommended keeping ambulances staffed at the current level — typically two paramedics and one emergency medical technician on each ambulance; buying more ambulances; and hiring more firefighters to staff ambulances.

The cost of the ambulances and new hires, estimated at more than $2 million, raised a few eyebrows.

"We'd like to have Cadillac service. We don't know if we can afford it," Councilman Steve Kay said.

During Tuesday's work session, Martin referred to a 2008 report by Management Partners Inc. that compared Lexington's ambulance staffing levels with those of eight other cities, including Cincinnati and Louisville, all of which staff ambulances with two people — one who drives and one who cares for the patient.

"Based on industry practices that are nearly universal in our experience, and developed to assure the best medical care protocols, staffing three persons per ambulance is a needless expense, adding nothing to the quality of patient care," the report said.

However, several of Martin's fellow council members noted that ambulance staffing had been thoroughly discussed when the report was written, and they ultimately decided to keep three people to an ambulance.

"I'm really not sure how many ways we can beat a dead, running-at-large horse," Councilwoman Diane Lawless said.

Council members also noted that Management Partners, the group that compiled the 2008 report, was "not very well thought of" among cities that hired it.

Martin said after the meeting he was not surprised at how the vote turned out.

"One of the ways folks on the council kill things is to prevent discussion of them," he said. "These folks had already made up their minds on the issue, even though I'm not sure there's very good information out there on it."

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