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Public Safety. Is it Job 1 or Ignored by Our County Manager and Council?

June 2, 2018

Most taxpayers live on a budget so they don’t run out of money before they run out of month.  Each of us have faced times when the budget is uncomfortably tight and we have to make hard spending choices.  When that happens do you typically cut your home owner's insurance or would you eliminate expensive gifts to rich relatives? 

Volusia County has chosen to give a big chunk of your home owner’s insurance money to super wealthy friends who promise to keep them in power. 

One of the most compelling responsibilities of local government is to provide services that keep our families safe in situations we are not equipped or prepared to handle ourselves.  Almost all taxpayers agree that when we face those dreaded emergencies we should expect adequate and timely responses from those who are best trained to keep us safe.  Your house is on fire.  Your loved one is dying of a heart attack or injury.  You’re drowning in an ocean whose power is no match for your skills.  Or God forbid, your family is confronted with a drug crazed home invader with a gun.  At these times we rely on fast response times by well-trained properly staffed emergency service providers.

After all, we elect public servants to make sure our public safety network is ready for the call you hope to never have to make.

In Volusia County, Public Safety is stressed to dangerous levels because our elected public servants turn a blind eye to the spending choices made by the County Manager.  Fire Fighters are understaffed to the point their own lives are often in jeopardy not to mention the lives of the public they have chosen to serve.  EMS, the Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedics we expect to be on scene quickly when emergencies arise, may not have a staffed unit available.

Most of us civilians assume these services are adequately staffed.  After all, you never see two guys show up for an emergency in one fire truck on TV.  There is always a group of first responders doing a multitude of tasks in order to provide the fastest service with the greatest ability to rescue and treat victims while remaining safe themselves.   We are conditioned to expect an immediate response by a more than adequate team of professionals. 


I understand, and so do these professionals in public safety, that we don’t live in a TV fantasy land.   We have real budgets with real limitations.  We get it.  But In Volusia County reasonable expectations for good emergency service may require some luck.  It is not because we have first responders who are incapable or unreliable.


During discussions with fire fighter a few years ago, County Manager Jim Dinneen agreed that three Fire Fighters per truck were necessary to provide adequate service. A few years later he slashed staff to levels that will only permit a two person crew.  Volusia County EMS has not seen a significant change in staffing in this decade. Perhaps it was determined public safety was the place to cut spending during the tough years of recession we just went through.


I would have preferred the cuts begin with the millions of taxpayer dollars the Volusia County Council gives away each year in corporate welfare.  Corrupt corporate cronyism is the driver for decisions in our County government.  Campaign finance reports that are public record reveal the reason why Public Safety has taken a back seat to the desires of our elected “representatives” wealthy friends.  The Sheriff’s repeated requests to correct glaring problems with inefficient and inadequate computer systems, a beleaguered Air One helicopter, and record low pay for dispatchers have not received a response.  This same brush off is experienced by Fire Fighters and EMS services.

In a community like ours with a growing population over 55 where new homes are under construction by the thousands, this will inevitably lead to disaster.  


Meanwhile the county is proud to show the $2.1 million dollar quarterly interest it just earned on their half a billion dollars of investments.  The county has a huge savings account funded with money taken out of your pocket, ostensibly for the purpose of serving the needs of our community.  How is your family's personal savings account performing?


The lack of staffing is dangerous for fire fighters who are almost always first on the scene. How do they check for victims, dangerous surroundings or circumstances, rescue any victims, fight the fire, and even begin to prepare any victims for transport before the ambulance arrives?  Is it acceptable for them to hope for a little luck for everything to go perfectly? That doesn’t even happen on TV. 


Even when firefighters are able to prepare a victim for transport they often have to wait for an available ambulance.  That delay doesn’t happen because the paramedics are off watching football somewhere – it happens because frequently, all of the available ambulances are already on a call. We have an adequate number of vehicles, but the county does not hire enough EMT’s or Paramedics to cover the needs of our community. 


Volusia County ambulances are dispatched for hospital to hospital transfers multiple times every day. For many of these transfers, paramedics and EMTs are dispatched to transport patients from hospitals within Volusia County to hospitals in Orlando, Gainesville, and occasionally Jacksonville.  This can contribute to a lack of available units ready for service. In a well-staffed operation this could be a reasonable source of added revenue to offset costs.  In an already understaffed situation the stress it adds to the system is not worth the revenue.


In Volusia County, ambulance crews don't have a station to return to in between each 911 call. Instead, they are instructed to sit and wait in parking lots in centralized areas to be on stand by for the next 911 call to come in. Try to imagine your 12 hour shift as a Paramedic or EMT confined to the cab of an ambulance. This means they have no access to tables to eat their meals, no access to desks to complete very detailed patient care reports, no access to clean restrooms and hand washing sinks, and no shelter from inclement weather. Like the Florida heat.


You would think our hot months would not be a concern for an ambulance with AC.  However, since vehicles are forced to stay in operation for an entire shift without returning to the shelter of a station in between calls, the EMS personnel often have to try to park underneath trees to attempt to keep the ambulance cool. Still, the patient compartments frequently reach temperatures above 80 degrees.  Try not getting motion sickness when riding backwards in a vehicle that is 84 degrees inside. Then, try treating a heat stroke victim in that same environment.


Florida law requires the patient compartment of the ambulance to not exceed 78 degrees.  In Volusia the compartment temperatures on some of the ambulances will frequently range from 80 to 90 degrees even with the AC unit running.


 If the ambulance is at one of the hospital ambulance ramps where the County has installed “shore lines”, electrical hook ups to keep all the electronics running, they plug in and wait.  Unfortunately, these electrical lines will not power anything in the front of the ambulance and leaves crews on night shift sitting in the dark.  So the lucky crew using an available shore line gets to sit in an oven during Florida’s hot summer.  Staging these ambulances right on the ambulance ramp at the hospital is like having a commercial aircraft to unload its passengers on the main runway. It doesn’t make operational sense.


According to 2016 figures, our four surrounding counties have a resident to staffed ambulance availability range between 14,700 - 19,600 to 1.  Volusia has a ratio of 32,400 to 1. That is double the accepted norm.  EMS employee turnover rate is higher than it should be because of poor working conditions.  That hurts the familiarity that needs to exist between fire fighters and EMS personnel.  Still, their main concern is being able to arrive at an emergency scene before the patient is dead.


Public safety must have immediate attention.  When I am elected to the Volus