ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. - After outsourcing emergency medical services for the past four years, University City is handing the responsibility back to its fire department. Some city leaders say the decision came after strong urging from the community.
Beginning at 7 a.m. Saturday (Aug. 3), University City Fire Department (UCFD) could have as many as three ambulances ready to respond at any given time. Fire Chief Bill Hinson said the department is one of the busiest in St. Louis County, but his fellow firefighter-paramedics are looking forward to doing the job they were hired to do.
"It’s a pride and ownership thing," said Hinson. "This is our town. We want to take care of it. That's what we're paid to do. That's what we love to do."
All 47 firefighters with the department are also paramedics and have completed 1,500 hours of training. During the outsourcing, Hinson said the department continued monthly training to maintain their paramedic certifications and to keep their skills sharp.
To account for the additional workload the department will be taking on, UCFD firefighter-paramedics were among city employees who received a pay raise this spring following a compensation study. The department also hired 12 new firefighter-paramedics with help from a federal grant.
"They are new to here, but every one of them comes to us with experience and several of them are veterans of our armed forces," said Hinson.
The grant will pay 75 percent of the salary and benefits for the 12 new hires during their first two years and 25 percent the third year, according to Hinson.
University City has approximately 40,000 residents and spans about six and a half square miles, Hinson said.
Many residents were not supportive of outsourcing emergency medical services, according to city council member Jeff Hales. They wanted more oversight and accountability.
"To know, as a resident, who's responsible for your public safety, I think that's one of the core functions of any municipality," said Hales.
Hinson said UCFD responded to about 4,500 EMS calls with two ambulances the last year before the service was outsourced. For the first time in department's history, he said, it will have up to three ambulances ready to respond.
"I think it sends a message to the community, not just our community but the region, to say that University City is that type of community," said council member Steve McMahon. "We're not on the decline, we're moving forward. We can provide these core services to residents that live here the way we should as a city of our size."
University City will host a celebration at Fire Station #1 (863 Westgate Ave.) from 10 a.m.-11 a.m. Saturday.