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12 Fla. firefighters reinstated as paramedics after failing test

By Ryan Mills
Naples Daily News

NAPLES, Fla. — Twelve Naples firefighters have a report card worthy of hanging on the fridge.

Three months after failing a test to prove they could function under Collier County's medical protocol, the 12 firefighters have completed a 40-hour refresher course and passed a corresponding test with flying colors.

"They all scored 100 percent, or nearly 100 percent, and are back in service," Collier County Medical Director Robert Tober said. "They took it seriously and jumped on it."

The firefighters, who were not allowed to work as paramedics for more than two months, have been reinstated as intermediate paramedics, the same status they held before they were pulled from service.

"I'm very happy that my guys focused on this particular process and had the opportunity to refresh their skills on these procedures that they will undoubtably have to use in the future," Naples Fire Chief Jim McEvoy said.

It was late July when 14 of the department's firefighter-paramedics took a 25-question exam, including a medical scenario and trauma scenario, to test their skills as medics.

Only two passed.

Collier County Emergency Medical Services officials said the test was necessary because the Naples fire department had struggled since the inception of a new agreement between the county and the city in 2007. The agreement established rules and guidelines for paramedics county-wide, all of whom operate under Tober's medical license.

McEvoy said previously that his department has done everything it can to comply with EMS requirements.

After failing the test in July, the 12 firefighters were not allowed to operate as paramedics until they completed the refresher course. They were, however, allowed to perform basic life support procedures.

McEvoy also removed medications and a defibrillator from his engine at Naples Fire Station 1, 835 Eighth Ave. S. EMS ambulances continued to operate out of Naples fire stations 1 and 2, and an advanced life support-equipped engine still operated out of Station 2 on 26th Avenue North.

On Friday, officials put the medications and paramedic equipment back on the engine at Station 1.

Tober and McEvoy agreed Naples residents were never at risk.

"Absolutely not, or I wouldn't have done any of this; 99.9 percent of the positive impact (the firefighter-paramedics) have on people is basic life support," Tober said. "We didn't take that away from them."

The refresher training was conducted between Oct. 5 and Nov. 3, officials said.

In a letter to McEvoy, Tober wrote, "While your medics should take pride in their accomplishment, it is my hope that they will not rest on this course alone. Atrophy, over time, will only lead to a repeating of the process, which led to these circumstances in the first place."

Tober said he planned to test the firefighters frequently and limit the number of drugs they carry "and see how the system works out." The department's training liaison is expected to provide "educational opportunities" to the Naples firefighters through the intermediate protocol, Tober wrote in a separate letter.

"I'm expecting it to accomplish keeping the firefighters a little bit more on their game and providing some enhanced emphasis to medical training," Tober said, "and just, hopefully, make the system operate without the endless contentiousness ... that goes on."

Collier firefighters and EMS officials have been at odds over the role firefighters should play in delivering medical services.

Firefighters say they need to be able to provide the advance life support services necessary to keep the public safe. Tober says firefighters do not provide the advanced medical services often enough to maintain their skills, and would be better utilized performing basic life support and preliminary life support if they arrive on scene before an EMS ambulance.

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