Tensions were high Thursday evening during London’s City Council meeting.
Concerned citizens exercised their civic duty speaking on the city’s proposal to sever itself from Madison County Emergency Medical District (MCEMD) and create its own emergency services division under the auspices of the fire department.
Tempers flared as the proceedings threatened to spiral out of control, as at times, speakers abandoned Robert’s Rules of Order for a less civilized, more emotional heckler model.
The themes of quality of care, commitment, history, and financing appeared to be most important to the employees of MCEMD and the patients who spoke on behalf of the district. Although not as foregrounded, the issue of job security was also an obvious concern.
Several employees of the district expounded upon the dedication and high levels of industry specific knowledge and years of training that were embodied in the MCEMD. Some questions arose about keeping up that quality of care.
Other questions involved coverage and how the railroad tracks dividing the city’s northern and southern halves would be addressed. The city’s administration has made it clear that they intend to have two squad bays and have several possible choices for sites.
For the city, excessive taxation in relation to the amount of services received, lack of adequate representation on the MCEMD Board (London currently has a 14 percent stake), and longer-than-necessary transport run times are some of the key issues. MCEMD’s overly-large (in the administration’s opinion) carry-over balance was also questionable.
London residents came out in support of both sides. Those in favor of MCEMD’s position included London residents Shirley Litchfield who praised the care she has received from its members, and Doug Pyles, stating that the $2-plus a month savings wasn’t worth the risk.
Those in favor of a split included former councilman Jim Boyd and resident Steve Saltsman — who has over 30 years professional experience in firefighting and EMS and who started his career with MCEMD.
Somewhere in the middle of the two sides was Madison County Sheriff Jim Sabin. “It’s public safety and public service,” he said. “And you get that through a cooperative working environment with all your first responders.” He stated that at this point, he hadn’t been presented with enough information to decide if the proposal would be beneficial or not. He also reminded council members of the influence that their positions held, and to be aware that their decision on the matter would stretch well beyond the city’s corporation limits.
Eric Burgess, Assistant Chief of Operations for Delaware County Emergency Medical Services and regional representative for the Ohio EMS Chief Association, spoke on the cons of a joint fire/EMS model.
Burgess also said that under Ohio law, the fire chief is in charge of run cards — that is, what vehicles are dispatched and where after a 911 call is received.
As it stands now, MCEMD Chief Robert Olwin establishes run cards for the entire district, including London.
“The letter of the law says that the fire chief is in charge of all lifesaving emergencies,” interjected Olwin. “The attorney general’s opinion in that is that is not the spirit of the law. The spirit of the law is that he’s in charge of every fire type emergency. If he was in charge of every type of emergency, he would be in charge of the police chief also,” he said.
This was a particularly contentious point, and made apparent what was partially responsible for the souring relationship between London Fire Department and MCEMD — a so-called turf war.
According to the city, they are not being utilized, even at times when London Fire would be quicker to arrive on the scene within corporation limits. A series of events regarding run times were questioned.
Dr. John Casey, EMS Medical Director to the fire department, read aloud an email from Chief Olwin from March of 2014 ordering London Fire to discontinue runs for the following types of medical emergencies: deaths, non breathers, homicides, allergic reactions, cardiac/chest pains, choking/airway obstructions, difficulty breathing, gunshot wounds, stab wounds, suicides/suicide attempts/overdoses, strokes, syncopal episodes, and unconscious persons.
“How come you two can’t get along?” asked councilman Rich Hays of Chief Todd Eades and Chief Olwin.
Eades made an apology to Olwin.
The two pieces of legislation necessary to make the split possible were left on for another reading at a future council meeting.