Estero Fire Rescue’s assistant chief called the county’s actions “disgraceful” and a veteran Lee County paramedic resigned over what he calls the administration’s continued lies in the Medstar controversy.
The testimony drew little reaction from four of five Lee County Commissioners at Tuesday’s meeting.
A request by Commissioner Brian Bigelow to open an investigation of County Manager Karen Hawes’s conduct and reinstate Medstar pilots didn’t gain any traction on the commission.
Those pilots were terminated last month under the guise of suspending the county’s emergency medical flight program to obtain a voluntary accreditation that no other government in the state possesses.
Speaking to the commissioners, veteran paramedic Jason Ausman said he left his job of seven years yesterday, because he could no longer stand by while his superiors conveyed such lies to the public.
His comments were followed by Estero Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Mark Wahlig who said his department was “offended” by the county’s “disgraceful” response to his department’s request for a helicopter Friday.
That helicopter, Wahlig said, was needed to carry a critically injured 19-year-old from the scene of an auto accident.
But the privately owned helicopter Lee County brought in to replace the taxpayer funded service malfunctioned. The nearest standby was more than 25 minutes away in Sarasota.
Responding to questions about the threat to public safety, county administration claimed that the accident didn’t require a helicopter because it was within a 30 minute ambulance ride of the hospital. That policy was changed last year from 20 minutes.
It took 22 minutes to carry the truck’s driver to the hospital and 16 minutes to bring the passenger, once he was freed from wreckage.
Wahlig said it has been standard to request a helicopter when fire responders know it will take 20 minutes to untangle a critically injured patient.
The hope was a helicopter could have landed nearby to immediately rush the young man to the hospital, Wahlig said.
About 53 minutes passed from the time an ambulance was first dispatched to the collision to the time the passenger made it by ground ambulance to Lee Memorial Hospital, according to records.
While the county has two taxpayer funded helicopters, both were grounded when they suspended the program.
The second option for a helicopter is based about 80 miles away in Sarasota, according to fire officials.
Lee County officials claim Collier County officials told them their helicopter will be the last resort and that’s why they didn’t call the second closest option for an airlift.
However, Collier’s county’s helicopter “was ready to go”, but Lee County dispatchers didn’t contact them until 35 minutes after the accident happened, Collier EMS chief Walter Kopka has said.