CITRUS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – The president of the Citrus County Professional Firefighters IAFF Union, Citrus Fire Rescue Captain Thomas Ratchford, believes the county should take over emergency medical service in the county.
“I really want the decision-makers of our county to at least consider a fire rescue/fire-based EMS as an option,” said Ratchford. “As of right now, the only option that they’ve been presented with is Nature Coast EMS and Nature Coast EMS has struggled greatly. “
Nature Coast EMS is a non-profit agency that handles the county’s ambulance service. It began having staffing issues in July, when other EMS providers in neighboring counties bumped up salaries.
Nature Coast quickly became the lowest paying EMS provider in Tampa Bay. 20-first responders have since then turned in their resignations.
Nature Coast EMS Chief Scott Baxter told the board of directors, if the organization doesn’t get help from the county, it is in trouble.
“As we’ve already discussed, without additional resources, money, we are not sustainable,” said Chief Baxter. “We are not sustainable due to the fact that we’ve lost a multitude of staff since July 1 and a majority of that has to do with what we pay versus what everybody else pays. “
At a special meeting, board members voted unanimously to ask county commissioners for an additional $1.6 million in supplemental funding to increase wages for workers. They are scheduled to appear before commissioners on Tuesday afternoon.
Meanwhile, Captain Ratchford says citizens in Citrus county can expect to wait for an ambulance if they need one. He says in the month of August, there were 210 occasions when an ambulance was not available. That averages to seven times per day.
In one case, he recalls a patient waiting for an extended period of time, for an out-of-county ambulance.
“The nearest ambulance was 48 miles away. It came from Sumter County. All the way to Homosassa to transport this patient,” said Capt. Ratchford. “It took two hours.”