Red Team vs. Blue Team

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Ada County EMS Director Troy Hagen addresses the open forum.
  • Mathias Morache
  • Ada County EMS Director Troy Hagen addresses the open forum.
A crowd of some 60 concerned citizens and blog readers gathered yesterday at the Boise Public Library, to discuss the future of EMS in Ada County. The confab was hosted by Boise Guardian blogger David Frazier, a vocal critic of Boise Fire Department’s efforts to start a new ambulance service.

After months of fierce debate online at boiseweekly.com and at The Guardian, the debate left the Internet and entered The Real World. Sort of. While an assortment of white uniformed Ada County Paramedics were present to answer questions, Boise Fire Department refused to attend, leaving a lopsided panel.

“I think the fact that Boise Fire Department isn’t here speaks volumes. They think they can do EMS better, faster and cheaper? What’s their plan? Let’s hear it,” said one irate attendee. Multiple speakers expressed frustration that BFD was not present to answer questions directly.

Fire had announced earlier Monday they would not participate.

“The host for this event has already taken a stand on the issue and therefore cannot serve as an impartial moderator in this debate,” explained Greg Womack, president of firefighters Local No. 149, in a press release. “Boise Fire is committed to ensuring the highest quality emergency medical services to all Boise residents and looks forward to working with all involved parties to achieve that goal.”

Along with camera crews from two local news stations, Ada County recorded the meeting for permanent record, which one man said he hoped BFD would watch.

Frazier noted that the State EMS licensing Bureau also refused to attend, citing political reasons. At the forefront of the discussion was BFD's plan to purchase an ambulance, pending approval by the bureau.
If successful, the BFD ambulance would replace an existing ACEMS ambulance housed at a fire station. This plan was met with widespread criticism by those in attendance.

"What is the purpose of replacing one ambulance with another ambulance?" asked one man.

"Any wholesale changes should be determined by the people," said Frazier. "When we put the EMS system together in '75, we were looking for cooperation, not a standoff. This has become red team versus white team. It makes no sense."

Ada County EMS Director Troy Hagen explained that the existing laws governing EMS only contribute to the confusion.

"The laws were written in the 60's and 70's and are not well suited for the current climate," said Hagen. "This is our passion. This is our livelihood. We operate at a high level of performance and want to continue to do so for years to come," said Hagen, prompting applause.

County Commissioner Sharon Ullman was the lone political officeholder present at the meeting. "In January, the fire chief said he can do EMS better, faster, and cheaper. We have yet to see how," said Ullman.

Ullman said that she is working on establishing one set of working orders for both ACP and BFD so that they operate on a single "play book" for procedure, possibly incorporating joint training.

"The only thing we haven't done is agree to have them bring on an ambulance," said Ullman. Ullman and Frazier both expressed the feeling that there is a lack of knowledge on the part of City Council about the situation. Frazier noted that city council president Maryanne Jordan said she will address the issue at a September work session.

No ER doctors from St. Luke's or St. Alphonsus’ attended the meeting, although Frazier cited a letter from such physicians claiming that they saw no reason for duplication of services, and are advocates of establishing a unified protocol of medical response.

One man, identifying himself as an emergency physician for Mercy Medical Center in Nampa spoke on behalf of the medical community, although he noted that he does not speak for either of the care providers affiliated with ACP.

"As a whole, the system works best with firefighters as first responders," said the physician, claiming the duties of first responders and paramedics should not be mixed. "Care and transporting patients is complicated and best handled by paramedics. The system in Boise works well and is what most other cities use," said the physician.

To close the meeting, Frazier called for a citizen commission of oversight, noting that he has been a vocal advocate of a similar commission for police oversight and feels that both fire and police could be combined in a single commission.

"I've been a strong proponent for a police commission so citizens have a voice in essential services. The same goes for fire. We wouldn't have these problems today if we had a board," said Frazier.

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