SILVERTHORNE — Residents may notice a slightly different look to the county’s ambulances over the coming months as officials work to complete a merger between the Summit County Ambulance Service and Summit Fire & EMS.
On July 1, the two emergency services will operationally join forces, creating a single entity under the Summit Fire & EMS title, a move officials hope will lower costs and improve efficiency in the department.
“There’s a quality element,” assistant county manager Sarah Vaine said. “We’ll have one team training together and responding together. Not that we weren’t doing some of that already, but there will be more saturation in that respect. The goal is a triple aim for the medical field: high quality, lower costs and more efficiency, and very high patient satisfaction.”
While the merger is new, the idea certainly isn’t. Summit Fire & EMS Chief Jeff Berino said conversations about the prospect have been ongoing since 1980, with numerous consultant examinations of the county’s emergency system all recommending a merger.
Despite other studies, officials said the newest evaluation conducted over nine months by Emergency Services Consulting was much more detailed than previous studies, providing in-depth analysis of the community, call volumes, response times and more. And with a new joint administrative building between the two services scheduled to open next month, the timing finally aligned.
For employees, the move may not be too jarring. Staff with the ambulance service and fire department already are living and working together at stations in Copper, Dillon and Keystone, and ambulance employees are expected to move into the fire department’s Frisco station once the merger kicks in.
“They’re all acting as a team, living in the same stations and sharing dinner,” Vaine said. “They’ll just be wearing different uniforms now.”
Berino said the fire department would absorb 39 employees, bringing the total number in the department to 114. Ambulance workers technically will remain employees of the county until Jan. 1, when the full consolidation takes place, but they will fall under Summit Fire’s umbrella of operations starting next month.
Of note, no employees are being let go, and the county will continue to help subsidize the service with funds from the county’s 1A initiative until it sunsets in 2022, according to Summit Fire finance manager Mary Hartley. She also said the merger would include the consolidation of about $1.5 million in assets into the fire department, including 10 ambulances.
Following the integration, Berino said his intent is to cross-train new firefighters and medics moving forward so employees will be equipped to handle multiple responsibilities. Existing ambulance employees also will get a chance to take part in additional firefighter training.
“Right now (the Summit County Ambulance Service) is more singularly focused on EMS,” Berino said. “But the public expects us to do more. The multipurpose folks will be a huge benefit. We’ll work out a program for those that want to get trained on fires, and others will stay in a civilian role. But new hires will be cross-trained in both fire and EMS.”
While residents aren’t expected to see much of a difference, Berino said he expects the new organizational structure to improve depth and efficiency within the organization.
“Take the structure fire we had two weeks ago in Frisco,” Berino said. “We had an engine in Frisco, but one of the medic units was right on Main Street with one of our firefighters on board. It got there first, and they took the hose and hit the hydrant. That’s how it should work. We had a medic unit that got there half a minute before fire did, and that made the operations cruise.
“It’s about efficiency. We really didn’t have to do this, but both organizations saw the value. And in the long run, we should see some financial savings because we’ll be able to eliminate some duplication of effort.”
Community members should begin seeing the new look roll out on ambulances next month, and the department is set to cut the ribbon on its new administration building July 16.
“I think it’s a really exciting new step for emergency services in the county,” Vaine said. “Our board and the county government are proud of what’s been accomplished, and we’re excited for the future.”