My father had a favorite axiom that, “Rarely are things as good or as bad as we think they are,” and I’ve found that sage advise holds true in most situations.
Except when it comes to Volusia County governance.
Invariably – things are worse than we could possibly know. . .
Regular readers of these screeds know that I like to pepper the dire issues of the day with a liberal dose of humor and satire, but I’m dead serious when it comes to first-response capabilities and the state of our emergency medical service in Volusia County.
By any measure, Volusia County’s ambulance service – EVAC – is suffering from longstanding staffing and operational issues that continue to place your family and mine in danger.
In my view, it’s just a small part of why former County Manager Jim Dinneen fled for the hills when the walls he built began closing in – and his toadies on the dais of power didn’t even bother to hire an “outside expert” to make a cheap assessment, provide political insulation and blow smoke up our collective ass like they did for the Medical Examiner’s debacle.
By any metric, there are serious internal issues at EVAC that are putting lives at risk.
In my view, that’s unacceptable.
Don’t take my word for it – take a minute to speak to your local fire chief – or any firefighter or paramedic in your community – and ask them for their professional opinion on the issue.
Two years ago, the Volusia County Professional Firefighters Association, a public employee union representing fire and emergency medical personnel, sent a letter to former County Manager Jim Dinneen and the Volusia County Council warning that staffing shortages were limiting their ability to provide ambulance transport service for the nearly 80,000 calls-for-service received each year.
“It has now become normal to be at a patient’s side for 15, 30 and even 40 minutes or more, waiting for an ambulance to arrive,” the letter said.
That was two years ago. . .
When it became clear that the serious concerns of our first responders had fallen on deaf ears in Deland, in February, the intrepid WFTV reporter Mike Springer combed through reams of data and independently confirmed that the response times for Volusia County emergency services have been slowly increasing year-over-year.
Perhaps more disturbing is the fact that many area Fire and EMS professionals – those dedicated public servants directly responsible for providing the life-saving assistance we depend on (and pay for) – describe Volusia County leadership as suffering from an inflexible mindset, totally resistant to systemic change, that has resulted in a wholly dysfunctional and alarmingly inefficient service.
As a result, the majority of Port Orange City Commissioners, after careful deliberation, bravely decided that they aren’t going to wait while Volusia County gambles with the lives of its residents and will soon purchase and staff its own ambulance – a service that may exceed $425,000.00.
To demonstrate how serious Port Orange elected officials consider this issue – they have mustered the political courage to substantially increase taxes to help pay for improved service delivery.
In my view, it’s a damnable shame that Port Orange residents are being forced – by the gross lack of leadership and commitment to critical problem solving by Volusia County officials – to pay for duplicate services just to ensure their safety, but that’s what it has come to.
During community deliberations, former Port Orange Mayor Allen Green opposed the plan. Speaking in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Green said, “I believe that it’s our responsibility to force the county to provide the services that we pay for. I don’t believe that we should be getting into this business.”
Ask Daytona Beach Shores – or any other municipality in Volusia County – how trying to “force the county” to do the right thing by their residents worked out. . .
To add insult to injury, during last week’s Volusia County Council meeting, District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post, after taking the time to meet with area firefighters and paramedics, described the problems at EVAC as “serious” and strongly suggested that our elected representatives on the dais of power in DeLand actually do something about it.
Of course, Post’s constructive proposal was met with the usual arrogance and “eye-rolling” from her ‘colleagues’ – lackluster dullards who simply refuse to acknowledge the fact that the staffing shortages and logistical issues they have known about since 2016 now result in frequent periods when there are no ambulances available to transport critically ill or injured persons to area hospitals.
According to the News-Journal, Ms. Post said, “If something happens and you need an ambulance, consistently on a regular basis, an ambulance is not available to respond. The reason that is happening is because we haven’t kept up with staffing.”
Fair enough, right?
I mean, isn’t that exactly what Volusia County firefighters and paramedics have been screaming about?
Not according to the lockstep marionettes who currently populate the Volusia County Council.
“That is not accurate,” said the uber-arrogant councilwoman Deb Denys.
These comments are “irresponsible and reckless,” recently re-elected councilman Fred Lowry scowled.
Let me get this straight – two-years ago the Volusia County Professional Firefighters Association tells anyone who would listen that staffing shortages were limiting their ability to provide ambulance transport service.
Then, Volusia County administrators confessed that EVAC is seriously understaffed.
Hell, even Interim County Manager George Recktenwald – speaking about our overburdened paramedics – warned our obviously disinterested council members, “They are stretched. There’s no doubt about it. They have a lot of mandatory overtime.”
He also advised our obviously clueless representatives that the county has “budgeted two additional ambulances to its fleet, along with eight permanent employees” to try and improve service delivery.
Yet, Denys and the Right Reverend “Dr.” Fred Lowry have the brass to sit there and paint Councilwoman Post as a reckless liar?
Does this constant, mean-spirited effort to suppress original thought and innovative problem solving in favor of paralytic conformity and fealty to the ‘system’ ever end?
It’s become so horribly dysfunctional that any elected official who simply acknowledges the evidence and concerns of those who accept public funds to perform a public service are considered an out-of-control mutineer who must be beaten into submission, like a maverick square peg being pounded into the round hole of conformity.
If the Volusia County Council can’t unanimously agree that demonstrably poor ambulance response times and emergency service delivery is a real problem – then what has to happen before those we have elected (and re-elected) to protect our interests and steward our hard-earned tax dollars realize that the serious issues we face will require visionary leadership and the ability to work together?
For an unbiased professional assessment of this deplorable situation, let’s take a look at the opinion of former Port Orange Fire Chief Tom Weber – a recognized risk management expert with no skin in the game – who recently urged City officials to stand up the municipal ambulance service:
“The county system is 30 years antiquated. Seventy-one percent of the population in the state of Florida, 12 million people, are protected by fire-based transport. Only 6 percent, or 1 million people use a system similar to the county,” Weber said. “The standard— the golden rule of thumb, is one ambulance per 10,000 people. That would mean you should have 6 ambulances in Port Orange. Let’s cut it in half— you should have three. You have zero.”
In my view, the Volusia County Council is playing a bizarre game of chicken with our lives – holding firm to a weird faith in their own infallibility as we rush ever closer to disaster.
And with the municipalities spending good money after bad to fund essential services that Volusia County is already responsible for – when do We, The People begin the discussion on “right sizing” county government – returning services to local control, and taking our lives and tax dollars back from this cabal of dysfunctional shitheels?
I mean, with lives hanging in the balance, who’s “irresponsible and reckless” now?