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Elyria fire chief abandons pursuit of pharmacy license, monitor equipment


ELYRIA — Fire Chief Rich Benton said Friday he has decided to indefinitely postpone plans to increase the department’s pharmacy license and will not apply for a federal grant to purchase advanced heart monitors.

In the face of what is become a growing debate with LifeCare Ambulance Inc. over whether the licensure change and grant application are the Fire Department’s way of back-ending its way into becoming an ambulance service provider, Benton said he would rather table the issue to let cooler heads prevail.

“I do not want to turn this into a situation where there is a winner or a loser,” he said. “For us, this is about patient safety, and there has to be a better way than by battling it out on Council floor.”

As a result of the decision, the special joint meeting of Council’s Finance and Community Development committees called for Monday has been canceled.

In a letter to Council President Forest Bullocks, D-2nd Ward, Benton said, “I feel strongly that the grant application was important and would have, if we had gotten it, provided needed services to this community. Unfortunately, this issue has been somewhat blown out of proportion, and I feel it is best to take a step back to regroup. I still strongly support the McGrath recommendations that we hire, train and utilize paramedics at the EFD and will continue to work towards that goal.”

Benton said he has talked with LifeCare President Peter de la Porte about how the Fire Department can achieve its goals while working with LifeCare. LifeCare is a private company that handles emergency medical calls in Elyria at no cost to the city.

The conversation Thursday was productive, de la Porte said.

“We do believe that the first response system that we have with the Fire Department is a well-working system,” he said. “We are going to work closer together. We are going to have a much better relationship then we have had and start fostering that with our employees.”

A working protocol between LifeCare and the Fire Department is exactly what Dr. Michael Summerfield, the medical director at EMH Medical Center in Elyria, told Council would be needed if both entities were to operate at the same level in the city. He recently sent a letter to Council citing his approval of the license upgrade for the Fire Department.

“With the change in the Fire Department’s license, both providers will have the ability to function at the paramedic level,” he wrote. “This makes it more important than ever for us to make sure these two providers work together in a well-coordinated manner. Doing so will help ensure transfer of care between the two providers is done in a smooth and professional manner, and that optimal patient care is maintained at all times.”

Benton’s decision to back off comes one week after de la Porte wrote to Council asking members to stop all efforts to have the Fire Department assume ambulance services in the city. Doing so would have financial consequences for the private company, including the possibility of layoffs, de la Porte wrote. He followed the letter with a visit to a Council meeting during which he spoke passionately about how he is scared the grant and license change are the first steps toward actions that would harm his business.

The Elyria Fire Department is considered a basic life support department, but Benton would like to have the designation changed so the department can become an advanced life support department, which would allow the 28 paramedic/firefighters currently in the department the authorization to do more pre-hospital care in the field. That care would include starting IVs and giving patients narcotics.

The designation change also would allow paramedic/firefighters to use advanced heart monitors, like the one Benton sought to purchase for the department through a federal grant.

De la Porte has said that getting the license change and monitors would put the Fire Department one step closer to becoming an ambulance provider.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or

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