City manager responds to EMS phase-out concerns


PANAMA CITY, Fla. — Residents are asking questions after the announcement on July 19 that the Panama City Fire Department will soon stop responding to emergency medical service calls.

Mark McQueen, Panama City City Manager, says that those calls are the County’s responsibility, and they always have been.

“I expect our firefighters to be at their highest state of readiness to fight that which they’re called to do,” said McQueen. “Which is to be a firefighter.”

Out of all the calls they receive, only one third of them are for fires. The rest of them are medical; anything from a broken foot, to a heart attack. According to McQueen, this high volume of calls has created unintended consequences.

“What I’ve heard repeatedly from the Chief of Fire is that our firefighters are fatigued,” he said. “They’re underpaid and they have poor resources in terms of facilities.”

McQueen says that’s got to change, which is why he came up with this plan; to lessen the burden on the firefighters by phasing out EMS responses, giving more of that responsibility back to the county.

“It is explicitly the county’s responsibility to do EMS,” he said. 

One resident, Henry Hazard, agrees.

“Let the firemen deal with fires, let the EMS deal with the medical issues,” said Hazard.

Other residents wonder what this means for their safety, as Bay County EMS response time is often slower than that of Panama City firefighters.

Bay County officials said in a statement:

“Panama City fire service is a city issue and their decision does not impact the county’s portion of the EMS chain of care. Bay County EMS will respond as we always have. Panama City determines which services and what levels of service to provide inside their boundaries, and we will continue to work with them as we always have in support of their operations at whatever service levels they deem appropriate for their personnel and citizens.”

Bay County EMS offers advanced life support and transport, which the Panama City Fire Department does not. However, the fire department is usually the first on the scene at most emergency medical calls within the city, able to deliver basic life support until an advanced life support EMS unit arrives.

McQueen said the phasing-out process will be slow, but many residents are still concerned about the gap in response times.

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