Fire board ends some paid EMS response

Firefighters say they'll volunteer to respond to heart attack calls

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Firefighters in Craig say they'll still respond to heart attack calls even though they won't get paid.

Craig Fire/Rescue expanded its repertoire six months ago and increased its collaboration with The Memorial Hospital's ambulances. In addition to fires, car wrecks and other rescues, the agencies began working together on cases in which the victim was not breathing and had no pulse.

Sixteen of the department's 27 firefighters are certified emergency medical technicians. Those EMTs can begin CPR or take on other tasks while the ambulance crew begins advanced life support.

Firefighters refer to it as a "medical assist." It had been implemented on a trial basis. But on Thursday, the Craig Rural Fire Protection District Board of Directors voted not to pay firefighters who respond to the emergencies.

The motion to discontinue payment was made by Byron Willems, a firefighter who also sits on the board.

"We collect tax dollars to fight fires, and that's where our focus should be," Willems said.

Willems' position was not popular with the department's other firefighters. At a staff meeting earlier this month, 26 of 27 firefighters said they thought the district should continue the collaboration.

In times of diminishing budgets for many public entities, Willems argued that the department should not overextend itself.

"I don't want to sound like it's a terrible thing to help people, because it's not," Willems said. "It's a money issue."

Medical assists were costing the district about $440 a month, according to Craig Fire/Rescue Lt. K.C. Hume.

Hume delivered a presentation about why the department should continue the medical assists.

"It's another service we provide to taxpayers in the district," Hume said.

Medical assists take their place among rope and ice rescues, automobile extrications and industrial accident responses, Hume said.

After the meeting, Chief Roy Mason and Deputy Chief Chris Nichols said they thought the bulk of the department still is committed to medical assists.

"Everyone I talked to still will run, even if there's no pay, because it's a service to the community," Nichols said. "We want an opportunity to showcase our training, our dedication and our level of commitment to the community."

Hume said the firefighters are passionate about medical assists and will continue to respond, "without a doubt."

The president of the board, Tommy Cotton, said he was willing to let the program continue, but would watch the expense carefully. Cotton offered the only dissenting vote on the five-member panel.

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