Summit County emergency medical services could operate differently next year
East Side fire districts could shoulder the responsibility as Park City agency asks for independence
Emergency medical services in Summit County may look different next year as East Side and West Side fire chiefs develop a vision for how their departments provide aid in the long term.
Park City Fire District Chief Bob Zanetti appeared before the Summit County Council on Wednesday to advocate for an EMS system independent of the county. The two-part request would give the Park City Fire District the authority to manage its own collections and billing rather than relying on budgeting from the County Council, and slowly shift the responsibility of providing emergency medical services on the East Side to the North Summit Fire District and the South Summit Fire Protection District.
The discussion was a continuation from May, when Zanetti asked the County Council to amend the county’s EMS license, which is currently contracted out to the Park City Fire District. The topic has been broached in recent years, but it was reintroduced when East Side residents raised concerns about local control in the wake of a North Summit Fire District reorganization.
“We’re great partners with Summit County. We want to continue that, but it would be nice to know the direction we’re heading in the future, and I know that depends a lot on my fellow fire chiefs,” Zanetti said on Wednesday.
He argued the current EMS financial structure is unbalanced because of the cost Park City Fire District incurs for providing services. According to his presentation, the County Council budgeted around $2 million for EMS on the West Side. Zanetti estimates the actual cost in 2022 will be $4.2 million – or a $2.2 million deficit. The annual cost for providing ambulance transportation services includes service delivery, support services, housing the vehicles and other operating expenses.
The Park City Fire District has generated around $1.9 million over the past four years in ambulance billing revenue on the West Side, which was returned to Summit County.
The County Council also budgeted $1.2 million for the Park City Fire District to provide EMS in North Summit and South Summit. The actual cost this year is estimated to be $1.7 million.
Zanetti said the Park City Fire District absorbs the additional costs and no longer sees it as acceptable for the West Side fire department to subsidize the East Side. He’s striving to increase the level of service in the Park City area but said it isn’t possible with the current deficit.
Under his proposal, the Park City Fire District would no longer receive funding from the County Council and would instead manage its own budget. If the Park City Fire District were to continue providing EMS throughout Summit County, Zanetti said, a contract is needed.
“We’re here to help and be a partner, but we can’t continue to operate at the deficit that we’re at with the district money,” he said.
Zanetti indicated he wanted the process to start as budget season approaches and as North Summit Fire District Chief Ben Nielson reshapes the department to provide EMS on the East Side.
But an upcoming third-party assessment of the county’s emergency medical services system could provide critical information that could impact decisions.
Janna Young, the interim county manager, told the County Council the group is tasked with collecting data and providing short-term and long-term recommendations. It would be useful to wait until the study is complete, which could take six to nine months once a contract is signed, she said.
The agreement between the County Council and the Park City Fire District, which includes the EMS provision, also expires next March. Young said staffers will need direction on renegotiating the agreement if the study isn’t finished.
The County Council was supportive of an independent Park City Fire District but agreed it would be best to wait for the results and involve the public. County Councilor Roger Armstrong said many East Side residents have asked for the North Summit Fire District to manage its own EMS system, but the study could determine it isn’t the best decision based on overall cost or response times.
Armstrong continued he and Nielson have already started having conversations about the cost of providing fire services in North Summit and EMS will naturally become part of the discussion. Other municipalities are expected to begin working through the issue soon, too, with the volume of medical calls continuing to increase compared to fire calls.
South Summit Fire Protection District Chairman David Ure supported the switch because firefighters need to be cross trained with EMS, but he said the population base on the East Side isn’t enough to support it right now. Unlike the North Summit Fire District, the County Council does not govern the South Summit Fire District. Ure also admitted the East Side fire districts need to catch up to the Park City Fire District to ensure there aren’t gaps in service and asked for the chiefs to be included in future meetings.
“Teach us. Help us to work together. There are many questions that we in South Summit have that haven’t been answered yet,” he said. “I don’t want the East Side to be subsidized by the people on the West Side. That’s not a good policy. But we need time to put that into place and that’s all I’m asking. Give us the tools to learn from. Make us part of the conversation and dialogue.”
Nielson, however, said the North Summit Fire District could be prepared to transition into an EMS role by the end of the year. Like Zanetti, he also had concerns about the timing of the study as officials prepare to discuss the budget. Nielson is expected to provide the County Council with an update about the fire district at the next meeting.
Moving forward, representatives from the Park City Fire District and the county’s Finance Department as well as Nielson will meet in the coming weeks to discuss the budget. Staffers will then develop a new agreement as well as a proposal for the transition.
The Summit County Wildland Fire Unit is a county-founded, volunteer-run resource created to assist with an extended wildfire.
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