County fire officials at breaking point with TRAA

Fire chiefs pen letter citing strain on crews, service
Members of the Allen County Fire Chiefs’ Association have sent City leaders a letter expressing “concerns regarding the deficiencies of (TRAA)."
Published: Jun. 3, 2022 at 3:48 PM EDT
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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA) - Members of the Allen County Fire Chiefs’ Association have sent City leaders a letter expressing “concerns regarding the deficiencies of the Three Rivers Ambulance Authority” -- problems that they say now “directly affect emergency responses” involving Fort Wayne and surrounding areas.

The letter lays out a point-by-point list of concerns which stem from the overflow of calls that TRAA is unable to accommodate. The concerns include:

  • County ambulances being called away from areas they are supposed to be serving
  • Added stress on crews -- both physically and mentally
  • Delayed responses

The letter notes that the affected public agencies “have been subsidizing the TRAA EMS system for well over a year and all of our residents and staff deserve better.”

ABC21 has reported extensively on concerns regarding staffing, responses and general morale at TRAA since last year. A new executive director, Joel Benz, was appointed last fall and has focused on addressing those issues.

Still, the recent letter -- dated May 2 but just now becoming public -- illustrates the deep and continuing nature of the problems.

“We all understand that this isn’t an overnight fix and may take some time to resolve,” the letter continues, “but there seems to be a lack of urgency and support from the City of Fort Wayne in this matter.”

Councilman Russ Jehl received a copy and tells ABC21 that he believes TRAA is making a good-faith effort, but he fears that lives are literally at stake.

TRAA operates as a quasi-independent agency. Its 9-member Board is appointed by Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry (4 members) and by Allen County commissioners (4 members), with a ninth member a local physician.

ABC21 contacted the mayor’s office and received a response that reads:

TRAA is an independent entity formed under an interlocal agreement between the City and County. Both entities appoint members to the board of directors. The City does not have a direct role or responsibility with providing a solution. However, City officials are meeting with the TRAA board, and the City has been involved in the discussions to help TRAA identify solutions to the nationwide paramedic shortage. The issues being raised by the county fire chiefs are concerns that will have to be addressed by TRAA. We can continue to help be part of discussions and look for solutions to challenges, but it’s not our direct oversight or jurisdiction. Also, the Fort Wayne Fire Department will not be transporting patients. It’s not how the emergency system in our community is designed. Having our department transport patients would pull our crews off of fire responses and lead to longer response times on the top priority of our department, which is to save lives and property in fire emergencies. Our proactive fire response makes our community safer with four minute response times, our ISO rating is low, which is what we want and that leads to lower insurance premiums for homeowners. We will continue to provide emergency medical/first responder services in the City of Fort Wayne, but not in a transport capacity.

Jehl took immediate issue with the response.

“It is the most flabbergasting statement I have ever seen or heard in the 10 years that I have been an elected official,” he said. “We absolutely are responsible for EMS services, and to suggest anything other than that is shirking our responsibility, is a dereliction of duty, and it explains why the EMS services have been able to degrade to the point where they did.”

A spokesperson for Henry countered that Jehl “has known for several months the position of the city administration and the fire department on the transport issue. We stand by our position and the outstanding fire and emergency services our firefighters provide each day to keep residents and businesses safe.”

Jehl says he has reached out to the Fort Wayne Fire Department, asking if it would be able to step in and take on calls if the county agencies are unable to continue as they have operated in recent months.

Reached late Friday afternoon, Commissioner Nelson Peters told ABC21: “We are aware of some of the concerns and are working to collaboratively resolve any issues as quickly as we can.”

This is a developing story.

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