Firefighters in The Villages could break off from Sumter County’s system to form its own fire district, an idea pitched to a citizen task force Wednesday that is exploring how to improve the county’s emergency medical services and ambulance transports.
Fire Chief Edmund Cain, representing the Village Center Community Development District, stepped forward to propose that an independent special fire control district be created to serve The Villages.
Cain made the proposal Wednesday night after the citizen task force asked to make a recommendation to Sumter County commissioners on their findings heard a presentation from the county’s medical director Dr. Desmond Fitzpatrick explaining the 10 options originally presented to the board. Five of those options did not include The Villages Public Safety Department.
A fire control district would enable The Villages to focus its resources on the community that stretches well beyond Sumter County. The department also provides coverage to Lady Lake/Lake County and Fruitland Park portions of The Villages, as well as having a presence in Marion County.
He told the committee that on behalf of the Villages Center Community Development District, the District commissioned a study by J. Angle Group in September 2020 to develop potential options for the future of VPSD.
That study took into account The Villages’ unique demographics as the oldest metropolitan statistical area in the United States and the ever-expanding boundaries of The Villages, Cain said.
Cain said creating an independent special district would “offer a middle ground for both the District and Sumter County, as well as alleviate the financial burden from Sumter County.”
He added an independent special district would allow VPSD to continue serving Villages residents, including those who live outside Sumter County, with the quality of care they have come to expect from the department.
“The residents of Lake and Marion counties would rest assuredly and more easily knowing the unique services which they have also subscribed to would continue,” he said.
The formation of an independent special district would likely require approval from the Florida Legislature, Cain said.
The Florida Department of Management Services currently identifies 22 independent special fire control districts in the state providing fire suppression, first responder advanced life support care and related activities.
Committee members asked Cain to return to the Aug. 4 meeting to provide further details.
Cain addressed the committee June 23 and stated he preferred the option that would allow VPSD and Sumter County Fire Rescue to take over emergency medical transport within Sumter County.
Citizens have pleaded with commissioners for months to address long wait times for ambulances from American Medical Response, whose contract, which expires next year, requires an ambulance to respond within 10 minutes for at least 90% of the calls handled.
AMR officials acknowledged that metric has risen to more than 16 minutes in the past year.
Fitzpatrick touted utilizing newer EMS concepts such as defined roles for use of quick-response vehicles, the newly enacted Nurse Navigator system and the potential of the Emergency Triage, Treat and Transport (ET3) program as additional ways to improve response times by easing the burden on the system.
The Nurse Navigator system utilizes a registered nurse to assess a patient’s symptoms for nonemergency calls and refer them to the most appropriate medical care, which could mean directing them to a local urgent care or clinic, or a telemedicine consultation. The program was presented to county commissioners among 10 options to consider, but AMR moved the following week to implement bringing a nurse into 911 calls without commission input.
ET3 is a Medicare program designed to offer alternative locations for transport, such as urgent care centers or primary care offices.