Who should provide ambulance services, fire department or Gold Cross?Call 911 for a health-related emergency in Duluth and you’ll get a response from the Duluth Fire Department and Gold Cross ambulance personnel, often providing duplicate services.
By: Brandon Stahl, Associated Press
Call 911 for a health-related emergency in Duluth and you’ll get a response from the Duluth Fire Department and Gold Cross ambulance personnel, often providing duplicate services.
Two city councilors are suggesting reviewing that policy, which could put Gold Cross out of business in Duluth.
“I think a comprehensive study should be done to see if it is cost-beneficial for the Duluth Fire Department to [take over] operating these services,” At Large Councilor Jeff Anderson said.
Anderson and fellow At Large Councilor Tony Cuneo say that with nine fire stations spread across the city, the Fire Department’s response time is faster than that of Gold Cross, a private service run by Mayo Clinic Medical Transportation.
But even though firefighters may arrive on the scene first, they often can’t provide life-saving paramedic services, Anderson said, putting patients at risk. The study would look at adding trained paramedics to the Fire Department.
Only paramedics can administer IVs and medications, intubate patients, perform minor surgical procedures and transport patients — skills that require two years of training. Firefighters generally take 110 hours of training to be certified as emergency medical technicians, said Jim Stauber, an At Large City Councilor whose full-time job is risk manager for Mayo Clinic Medical Transportation.
In the past, Stauber has opposed having the Fire Department provide ambulance services, saying that firefighters often aren’t needed on emergency medical calls because their ability to work with patients is limited.
“They’re good at holding doors open for us,” Stauber said previously. He and other Gold Cross officials declined comment for this story.
He also has said in the past that Gold Cross is the first to respond to a scene about a third of the time, the Fire Department is first another third, and there’s no time difference the other third. He did not provide data to back up that claim.
The city administration has no plans to explore adding paramedics to the Fire Department, say Fire Chief John Strongitharm and David Montgomery, the city’s chief administrative officer.
Erik Simonson, head of the fire union, said he has not been approached by anyone on the City Council, but would welcome the change so long as “there were no negative impacts on the services we provide.”
Exploring the idea is nothing new. Four years ago, Strongitharm asked for a study on it, but the idea didn’t go far. Under state law, only one agency can provide ambulance services for a region, essentially holding a monopoly.
If Duluth wants that law to change, said state Rep. Tom Huntley, chairman of the House Health Care and Human Services Finance Committee, it probably would result in a major legislative fight.
“It would be a huge battle statewide,” the Duluth DFLer said.
Huntley said local hospital administrators he’s spoken to in the past support keeping Gold Cross.
It also could bring on another problem, Huntley said. Gold Cross in Duluth also serves outlying townships that the Fire Department does not. If the Fire Department served Duluth, Gold Cross probably wouldn’t see enough profit to serve the outlying areas.
“You couldn’t just carve out the city of Duluth,” he said.
But former State Rep. Mike Jaros of Duluth said there’s value to the idea, saying the city could break even on providing the service, if not actually see a savings and bring in revenue.
“The city could save $2 million to $3 million a year,” he said. “Right now, we’re sending that money to Rochester and duplicating a service.”