By Noelle H. Lowery
In January, the Board of Collier County Commissioners voted to better response times for emergency services. First, as of Jan. 15, an operational change required the Advanced-Life Support Ambulance (Medic 90) stationed with the Isles of Capri Fire-Rescue Department to move to the Marco Island Fire-Rescue Department when its ambulance is out on a call. Then, as of Feb. 1, Collier County granted MIFRD a second seasonal ALS ambulance (Media 803), which will operate January-April for 12 hours each day, 9 AM-9 PM.
It appears the additional EMS support is slowly whittling away at the travel time of ambulances on Marco Island. Collier County EMS set a standard of eight minutes of travel time for an ambulance to arrive on the scene. Note, though, that this standard does not take into account the time it takes to receive and handle the 911 call, dispatch a unit or to have contact with a patient.
According to the MIFRD January report to City Council, Medic 803 responded to 41 emergency incidents in its first two weeks of service on Marco Island, and during that two-week period, ambulance travel time was under eight minutes 93 percent of the time. During the same time period in 2013, ambulance travel time was under eight minutes 88 percent of time.
The addition of the second seasonal ambulance is thanks to an effort by Marco Island City Councilor Amadeo Petricca, Marco Island Fire-Rescue Department Chief Michael Murphy, MIFRD Deputy Chief Chris Byrne, City Attorney Burt Saunders, District 1 Commissioner Donna Fiala and Collier County EMS personnel. The team had conversations with all members of the BCC, making a presentation about why a second ambulance was necessary for Marco Island.
Of course, there were the obvious reasons of increases in calls, increases in overlapping calls and increases in response times. In 2013, MIFRD responded to 3,202 fire rescue and medical incidents — a 10.5 percent increase over 2012, a 16.5 percent increase over 2011 and a nearly 60 percent increase since Marco Island became a city 15 years ago.
Last year, there were 650 times MIFRD had two or more overlapping calls. In 2012, there were 543 overlapping incidents on Marco Island requiring off-island assistance, and in some of these cases, island residents waited as long as 29 minutes for a county ambulance to transport them to a hospital. In January of this year, MIFRD responded to 333 calls, and of those, there was a total 87 of overlapping incidents.
There were other reasons too. Marco Island is at the end of the road. There is no hospital or major health care facility on the island, and EMS units do not regularly drive through Marco Island unless they are responding to an emergency call. New delays in response times from off-island units are expected as well with the current widening project for the intersection of U.S. 41 and S.R./C.R. 951. Finally, Marco’s population is growing, and the seasonal elderly population is staying longer, resulting is more medical calls for MIFRD.
“We are seeing the impact already,” MIFRD Chief Murphy notes.
While all of these reasons compelled the BCC to approve a seasonal ambulance, Petricca feels there is more work to be done. After all, the seasonal ambulance only provides coverage 12 hours a day for about 120 days of the year — 1,440 hours each year. That leaves Marco Island still with just one ALS ambulance for the remaining 12 hours a day during season and 24 hours a days for other eight months of the years. That’s 7,320 hours annually.
That’s why Petricca’s ultimate goal is to secure a second full-time ambulance for Marco Island. He is pleased with the current result, he says, but “this is not the end of the line.”