Below are just some of the major issues facing your fire department today.
Staffing levels and Experience
Marion County Fire Rescue is constantly understaffed due to an exodus of experienced and skilled first responders as well as a limited ability to attract new employees. Last year 60 firefighters, paramedics and EMT's left Marion County, a resignation every 6 days with the average first responder having 7 years of experience. This year alone we have already lost 60 and are on track to lose over 100 first responders.
Sadly we cannot hire enough new people fast enough and we are around 60 positions light. But more importantly almost every single new hire has not even a day of experience. The fire chief and the medical director raised these concerns last year, yet the county commissioners did nothing.
Astonishingly in the last four and a half years, MCFR has lost around 220 first responders turning over 45% of the department. Sadly, these employees took with them a combined 1200 years of experience. It cost the Marion County taxpayer well over $40 million to grow these firefighters and paramedics just so they could take their skills to other communities. This does not even include the ballooning overtime budget to cover the gaps nor the cost to replace them.
The national standard is to have first responders to a medical scene within 5 minutes to 90% of all emergency calls so that life saving treatment can begin.
Marion County does not follow this standard. Instead we have self imposed goals of getting ambulances to scenes between 9 and 16 minutes depending on where a person lives. And we are even finding these goal elusive to reach. Recent records show that county wide response times are nearly double to triple the national standard depending on if you live in a subdivision or the countryside.
Complicating matters, ambulances and other units are shut down often due to low staffing. Further complicating matters, ambulances from the area of SW SR 200, Belleview, Rolling Greens, Anthony, Ft. McCoy, and near Dunnellon are pulled into the city of Ocala leaving county residents at risk.
Quick response times of under 5 minutes are critical to not only saving lives, but also to prevent life alter effects from various medical emergencies. Click here to see one such story.
Low pay and budget deficits
Marion County Fire Rescue has some of the lowest pay among fire departments in Florida. Firefighters and EMT's start at $8.98 an hour. Firefighter Paramedics start at $11.83 and there has been no plan to allow for pay increases based on experience or education since 2010.
The county's own study, released in December 2013, showed that first responders were between $10,000 and $12,000 underpaid a year. There is no future for the first responders who work for Marion County unless they become employed elsewhere.
But this will not be a concern if deficit spending continues. The fire chief stated in January that in 2016 the department will be short $3.3 million. Then the commissioners will have to decide how to devolve the Fire and Emergency Medical Service in Marion County.
Aging fleet and equiptment failure
More than 40% of Marion County's ambulances have over 200,000 miles and ambulances break down all the time.
Unfortunately, Marion County Fire Rescue does not track how often units break down during calls or if firefighters and paramedics were prevented from from taking emergency calls due to vehicle failure.
Because the size of fleet maintenance was reduced, many of the minor issues are becoming major issues futher causing vehicle failure. The last brand new ambulance was purchased in 2011. Every ambulance since has been a refurbished unit.