On October 18th I went to see the movie Gone Girl. It was a good movie, successful at the box office, but I never saw the ending. About halfway through the movie a man sitting on the theater’s back row started making sounds of distress. The woman next to him stood up and asked for help, then called 9-1-1. A Vero Beach office officer arrived at the scene within a minute or two and it appeared from people around the man that he had stopped breathing. The officer moved him to the floor and began chest compressions. By now, everyone in the theater was standing and someone yelled for the lights to be turned on. After several minutes, the officer said the man was conscious. But then he stopped breathing again and the officer resumed chest compressions. Finally, the lights were turned on and a few minutes later, the movie was stopped. A manager came in and asked us to all leave the theater. The victim was still being worked on.
As I left the theater, an ambulance finally arrived. It seemed to me that it took a long time considering a fire station was less than a mile away.
So why tell about this incident? It turns out that the ambulance was delayed by a train, which is another story entirely. But it brought to light a situation that warrants concern by Indian River County residents. The county fire department has 11 ambulances to cover the entire county. Those ambulances make over 26,000 runs a year, an 11% increase over just two years ago. According to John O’Connor, president of the Indian River County Firefighters’ Association and a paramedic himself, “There are two times a week that no ambulance is available to make a call due to the volume. In other cases, an ambulance has to go up to 17 miles from a station far out of its zone. Any breakdown in the system, a vehicle needing repairs, personnel not available when needed, could have a major impact. In the next five years the system could be crippled. We need one or two ambulances right now.”
So why doesn’t the department have them? Like everything else, the fire department’s annual budget is determined by the County Commission and paid for by your taxes. The Commission has a responsibility to provide services to county taxpayers at the same time they also have a responsibility to keep taxes low. But at what point do those responsibilities conflict?
The county’s contract with firefighters is in negotiation and has been for many months. Any time negotiations occur in public or corporate life, those who control the purse strings must weigh needs versus wants in determining what is acceptable financially. In this case however, where Commissioners run for office and are elected based on a platform of keeping taxes low, does their responsibility for public safety override their commitment to low taxes?
The county has declared an impasse in its negotiations with firefighters. No doubt there are negotiable issues, but it seems the need for ambulances and a fast response time when lives are at stake trumps a pledge to keep taxes low.