Contract Between Park City, North Summit Fire Districts Raises Community Concerns
Some North Summit community members have raised concerns about emergency services provided in their area.
The North Summit Fire District is a special service district in the county with around 25 volunteer firefighters and EMS serving almost 420 square miles in the North Eastern part of the county.
In the past, when there were accidents the responding volunteers would drive to the scene in their own cars. Coalville Mayor Trevor Johnson said these volunteers were commonly community members.
"You'd have an ambulance presence with local volunteer firefighters, people that you saw every day ... you worked with, went to church with or whatever saw on the grocery store," Johnson said. "And that was that it was a culture, I think that is important and embedded into the fabric of the community."
In 2001, Park City Fire District started to oversee the operation of Summit County EMS including North Summit.
Since the change, some community members say response times are slower and the team is no longer local. Johnson said there are concerns on both sides.
"I think, it's just in their mind a transition from kind of the old way or school of doing things to ... and there's some legitimate reasons that … I guess there's some liability things between driving your own car to a scene and taking that liability and potential risk of an accident versus sending people out of the station," he said. "I get the argument. I just think there can be a little bit better balance."
However, Park City Fire Chief Paul Hewitt said under state law there has to be a shift from the way things were done in the past.
"It's not like the old days, the old days, you'd have people respond from their home and they drive their car, you know, basically tilted to the call as fast as they could go," Hewitt said. "But there were some disastrous results and that created laws."
He said there’s no truth to Park City Fire trying to take over the North Summit Fire District.
"That thought has never even crossed my mind," he said. "And in fact, it hasn't crossed the mind of any of my staff. And beyond that, that wouldn't even be in my purview. So it's nothing that I've ever desired or anybody or fire district has ever desired. It's purely rumor."
Hewitt said Park City is able to generate all of their revenue costs through response calls. But in more rural areas like North Summit, with roughly a $400,000 budget and far fewer calls to cover operational costs, the district has an annual shortfall of about $250,000.
"So we do things that we have to do, we can't afford to pay benefits to all the employees," he said. "So we try to run a part time staff for the most part. The facts are we're doing the east side and the west side here. We're working as neighbors cooperatively. We're looking at any way we can improve and squeeze every nickel to get every bit of service out of that nickel that we can."
Summit County Manager Tom Fisher said the county is discussing the future of EMS between the mayors, council and fire districts. He said there would have to be several measures in place for North Summit to become their own district including licensure, a secure tax base and the budget to pay for the service.
"So I think there's some really good questions being asked by the community about provision of fire service and EMS service," he said. "And we're in the mode of being open about how we do things and providing a lot of education so people understand the complexity of that decision."
Hewitt said both he and the council are open to criticism and willing to make any adjustments.
The North Summit Fire District is scheduled to meet Thursday, April 8.