WATERTOWN — The city has committed to working on plans to reduce the number of emergency medical calls the fire department responds to without relying on changing how Jefferson County 911 dispatchers handle emergency calls.
The City Council on Tuesday backed off on pressuring the county to change protocol for 911 calls, which determines which medical call the fire department is dispatched to.
Before approving an amendment to a resolution Tuesday night, Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith and council members Sarah V. Compo and Jesse C.P. Roshia were considering to set a Jan. 1 deadline to stop all EMS calls if the county didn’t agree to use the EMD protocols.
Councilman Ryan Henry-Wilkinson offered the amendment.
“I was just trying to prevent that and come up with a logical outcome,” he said after the meeting.
The majority of council wants the fire department to go only on the most serious of medical calls.
Afterward, Fire Chief Matthew Timerman was relieved that council members backed off from the deadline.
“I think that’s wise,” he said, adding that EMS “is a very important service for the city.”
Councilwoman Lisa A. Ruggiero, who’s been a vocal supporter of the service, cast the only no vote.
By that same 4-1 vote, council members also decided to put the heavy rescue truck up for auction after permanently taking it off the road in a controversial vote last month.
On Friday, Mayor Smith put the question of selling the rescue truck on Tuesday’s agenda.
Chief Timerman has said that move would complicate the situation of using “Jaws of Life” equipment because some of that equipment can only fit on the rescue truck.
But the fire department is moving toward using battery-powered equipment and a pickup truck to transport the equipment. It’s a trend that’s occurring in fire departments all over the country, the fire chief said.
He also told council members the city will have to spend between $32,000 and $35,000 to replace some of the equipment that cannot be taken off the rescue truck and put on the pickup.
During the meeting, seven residents spoke against making a change with EMS calls or selling the rescue truck.
Retired Fire Captain Todd DeMar, who now owns a consulting business, said “timing is critical” when responding on EMS calls.
“Someone is going to die,” he said if the city stopped doing them.
Two residents urged Councilman Roshia — who’s started a job in Syracuse and is moving to a new home in the county — that he should not vote on the issues Tuesday night because he’s resigning his seat at the end of the month, and he’ll no longer live in the city.
“He has the right to vote and it’s his duty to vote,” Mayor Smith said.
In recent weeks, the way the city handles EMS calls has dominated council discussion.
Mayor Smith reiterated that the fire department’s EMS calls should go through the same process the county uses for other fire departments in the county.
But it was unlikely county legislators would agree to make the change and use the dispatch protocols because it would result in the county having to hire five 911 dispatchers at a cost of $300,000, county officials have said.
County dispatchers now notify the fire department after a call comes in to them and they automatically send out a fire engine to the scene, no matter the seriousness of the call.
Proponents say the fire department almost always gets to a scene first and that it saves lives.