PRESS EDITORIAL: Need a paramedic? The county is coming to the rescue.

Grousing about how the money contributed to federal, state, county, city, village and town governments by taxpayers is spent is a national pastime, and not an inappropriate one—the complaints are often well deserved. But there are moments in the course of government affairs when a tax-funded initiative comes along that is so obviously sensible and beneficial to citizens that it deserves universal applause. The Ozaukee County Board should get ready to take a bow.

The County Board has an opportunity to put an end to a crisis that threatens the well-being of Ozaukee residents by spending $5 million in federal funds.

The crisis is the shortage of paramedics that delays urgent care for people in the county suffering from life-threatening injuries or sudden illness. The solution is a network of 18 paramedics paid by the county and placed in six communities. For the first two and one-half years, the cost of the program, including the salaries of the paramedics, will come from funds contributed by every American taxpayer in federal pandemic relief money.

It was Sheriff Jim Johnson’s idea that some of the generous amount of pandemic money received by the county be used for relieving communities facing inadequate paramedic coverage. There is no better way to spend it.

Community fire departments are so stressed in providing emergency medical services that there have been a number of instances when people in the throes of a health emergency in a northern Ozaukee County community had to wait for a paramedic to travel from as far away as Thiensville. Response times of nearly half an hour have been experienced.

 A plan presented to the county’s Public Safety Committee last week is designed to cut response times to six minutes by funding three full-time firefighter/paramedic positions each for Fredonia, Saukville, Port Washington, Grafton, Cedarburg and Mequon-Thiensville.

The system would provide for a paramedic to be on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week in each community.

The plan would address an immediate need, while establishing a framework that could sustain a county role in providing emergency services, funded by a tax levy when the federal money is exhausted. This is the right approach. As County Administrator Jason Dzwinel said, “This is a problem for the county. It’s not just a municipality problem.”

The County Board should approve the plan not just because a critical need demands it now, but also because it sets the county on course to be a catalyst in a countywide transition to shared firefighting and EMS responsibility.

The historic model of volunteer fire departments in individual communities providing these services doesn’t work anymore. At the same time emergency services have become more complex in Ozaukee’s fast-growing communities, volunteer participation has fallen off.

William Rice, fire chief of both Grafton and Saukville, told the Public Safety Committee: “Our county is simply overwhelming our ability to respond.”

Rice was one of architects of the county paramedic plan, which in effect creates a shared emergency service organization. A similar approach could reinforce the firefighting capability of community fire departments in the future. That future will surely require more full-time paid professional firefighters, cooperation among local governments and perhaps variations of regional fire departments.

The county paramedic plan provides an incentive in that direction by offering municipalities an additional $100,000 for every community with which they consolidate services.

Profound changes are coming for community fire departments, something the Port Washington city government should keep in mind when it decides whether to go ahead with an elaborate second station for its fire department with a price tag of more than $5 million.

Meanwhile, the County Board will soon vote on spending pandemic relief funds on the excellent paramedic plan. The supervisors should give their hearty endorsement, and accept the applause of grateful taxpayers.

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494
 

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