Tuesday, April 20, 2010

MAST Integration to KCFD Going Smoothly, says Chief

The latest incarnation of the livery of an ambulance in Kansas City, MO.
Boy, here's a meeting I would have like to have attended! Kansas City Fire Chief Smokey Dyer met April 9th with various South KC interests. The Jackson County Advocate had an article last week and got lots of Smokey quotes. Only 10 more days before the formal deed is done of ambulance service being transferred to the auspices of the Kansas City Fire Department. The article is from the April 15th, 2010 edition of the Advocate and is by Seann McAnally.

MAST ambulance service is fitting into the Kansas City Fire Department quite nicely, thank you very much. That was the message KCFD Chief Smokey Dyer gave April 9 at the Trailside Center. Speaking as part of the "Second Fridays" program, where local residents, business and civic leaders meet to discuss District 6 issues, Dyer said the recent integration of MAST into the city's fire department was going smoothly and making for a better overall emergency response department.
"I originally felt that making MAST a stand-alone department was the way to go." said John Sharp, city councilman for District 6. "I thought putting it in the fire department was more risky. But the transition has worked out much better than I thought it would. Even some of the die-hard critics of this now don't really have a lot to say."
Dyer said KCFD is trying to get away from using the word "fire" to describe the department, preferring to think of themselves as a "emergency services department" That's important, he said, so that a culture of conflict doesn't spring up between ambulance workers and firefighters.
"We're bringing in 350 new employees who aren't firefighters, " Dyer explained. "We're trying to create a culture where they are equal in our organization." He said he was working on true integration, not a "bolt on" method where MAST is simply added to the existing fire department structure. "When we've seen that bolt-on method in some other cities, firefighters tend to consider ambulance personnel second class citizens, " he said. "You have a culture war that goes on for years, and who really suffers is the citizens who need the services."
He said KCFD now has some 1,350 employees, making it one of the biggest departments in 27 contiguous states, excluding Chicago and Dallas. And Kansas City's department is unique in one way. "We're the only big-city department in the country that is fully integrated with ambulance service," Dyer said. He said it was important that MAST takes care of all ambulance service, not just emergency service. "If you are at Truman Medical Center and they say you need to go home in an ambulance, you won't have to worry about going to the corporate sector and proving you have a credit card."
Dyer said the integration of the two services did save the city money. "We've already reduced by eight less senior managers that are no longer in the system," he said. "That saves almost $800,000. MAST didn't have the support staff that the city has. MAST had legal bills of $400 to $500,000 each year. We've replaced that with a single assistant city attorney at about $75,000 per year. We'll continue to look for more efficiencies."
He said the integration also makes it easier for ambulance workers to do their jobs. He said before the integration, there were few places for EMTs to clean up between calls, unless they could do so "in a Quik Trip bathroom." He said EMTs were often obliged to arrive at calls "covered in blood or vomit." "Now, they'll be able to post them at fire stations where they'll have lockers, shower facilities, and a place to get a warm cup of coffee," he explained.
He said it was important to keep the MAST membership program, where people with chronic conditions can pay a membership fee to cover expected ambulance service. "We don't want a system where people don't call for help because they're worried about the cost," he said.

It's good to see the chief addressing some very important issues here, such as the culture meshing between emergency medical workers and firefighters. He also starts to address the issues of savings for the city, but leaves out a lot of details. He makes it sound like it is going along perfectly. We do know some of the undercurrents of difficulty, mainly from anonymous TKC commenters, that the merger/integration/takeover is running into. Just today, TKC has a piece on pension difficulties. I am not convinced this will be without difficulty as it continues to play out. Stay tuned for further developments.

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