GUEST COLUMN: This Fire has been extinguished …but I hope there’s no rekindle

Staff Writer
The Destin Log

We just dodged a bullet. Last May, the Destin Fire Control District Commissioners voted to stop providing advanced life support paramedic services beginning Oct. 1, in Destin.

Being a retired paramedic and firefighter, this decision to stop providing paramedic services was simply unacceptable. The Destin professional firefighter/paramedics, who know that literally every second counts in a medical emergency, were also very concerned about the safety and welfare of our Destin residents and the 80 to 90,000 visitors that converge on our shores for vacations.

Captains Log 9-10-14: Emergency Medical Response makes up approximately 80 percent of the Destin Fire Department call volume. On the fire statistics, the numbers are not categorized on line so the fire call report can be misleading. If there are 200 “fire related” calls, that number includes fire system trouble alarms, smoke detector malfunctions, and other small fire “related” incidents. Per the fire chief, there were only 25 confirmed structure fires in a year. So, without Destin paramedic services, what would the fire personnel be doing at two Destin fire departments the other 340 days a year?

I have said in commission meetings and in news print; “You can replace a building with insurance, but you cannot replace a human life.” Emergency paramedic services are a vital service we all have grown to expect. In Destin, that vital service was slated to end in 20 days. I moved to Destin knowing that this fire department provided paramedic services; otherwise I would have chosen South Walton to live. South Walton has paramedic services and their own ambulances in the fire stations to respond, treat and transport. Destin does not own ambulances to treat or transport, fyi.

The county provides one ambulance staffed with one paramedic and 1 EMT in Destin. However, that is not enough to provide “optimal” pre-hospital care. In a cardiac arrest, you need a minimum of four paramedics. One paramedic must control the airway by endotracheal intubation, one medic is needed to do CPR and initiate telemetry, one must defibrillate the heart, and one paramedic has to administer emergency IV medications.

Destin paramedics respond as a team of medics to support the county EMS. The county ambulance experiences longer response times in season. Brain damage begins within 4 minutes of oxygen deprivation and within a few minutes, death occurs. Every second does count.

OK, you can breathe, as this current Destin Fire/EMS issue has been extinguished for now. Tuesday night the Destin Fire Control District Commissioners rescinded their vote to cease paramedic response on Oct. 1, just as I had expected. Destin firefighter/paramedics will now be able to continue to provide advanced life support paramedic services after Oct. 1.

Thank you for calling the fire district commissioners to save our emergency medical services.

Someday I’d like to see our own ambulances at our Destin fire stations to respond, treat, and transport visitors and Destinites quickly. We already pay for EMS through our county taxes, so if we separate our EMS from Okaloosa County, our tax dollars can fund our ambulance services without a tax increase through a county subsidy. South Walton Fire did this and separated from Walton County EMS. We can too. So let’s get to work.

PA “Patty” DeFrenza

Retired firefighter/paramedic and resident of Destin. Email contact: