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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: Council right to review duplicative service

It probably was no accident that the proposal to radically cut back on Hendersonville city fire truck responses to medical calls came from a lame duck city manager.


Interim City Manager Lee Galloway, in one of his last official acts before stepping aside in favor of the new manager, did the city a favor by urging the City Council to take a look at a duplicative practice that costs taxpayers a lot of money.
It was an "emperor's clothes" moment. As soon as the words came out of Galloway's mouth, council members jumped on board.
Why indeed, council members answered in refrain, must the city pay for fire crews to load on board a 15-ton vehicle and race (at 2½ miles to the gallon) to the same place an ambulance is going?
"If there's an increased demand for EMS service, then the citizens should say we need more service. ... But right now we're duplicating services," Galloway said. "With sprinkler systems, with better building construction, there's a lot less fire calls now than there were 50 years ago. This isn't just this department. It's nationwide. They've got to find something to do."
The council during its budget work session on May 17 did not have the advantage of hearing from Fire Chief Dorian Flowers, nor from county EMS officials, nor emergency room doctors, nor the American Heart Association. It certainly should get a full evaluation of the consequences before moving ahead. But even if the answer is that the redundancy potentially saves lives — which it surely will be —does that mean the City Council must drop the idea? No. If we could afford it we'd stage an ambulance on every 10th block. We can't.
In a year in which the City Council has booted a proposed 3-cent tax increase for one year and also is moving toward a park bond issue that would raise the rate by another 3 cents, a hard look at the expense side is certainly in order.
"You have a philosophic question that needs to be resolved," Galloway told the council. "I don't think you can say you'll never respond. I don't think you want to."
The county Emergency Medical Service has a big edge in the battle for revenue. It charges a fee for transporting a patient to the hospital. Firefighters may be doing heroic service at the scene of an injury or standing around watching. The city gets the same money either way: zero.
Council members will certainly hear more about this proposal, and they ought to involve the county EMS as they explore and deliberate. The council will be doing the taxpayers a favor, and doing their job as policymakers who look for efficiency, if they follow up on the issue and find a way to save money.