Fort Worth City Council votes to approve transition to fire-based EMS

The Fort Worth City Council voted Tuesday to approve the transition from MedStar ambulance service to fire department-based EMS.

MedStar has been the sole ambulance provider for Fort Worth and the surrounding area since 1986. The new EMS model will bring MedStar employees on board to serve as paramedics and emergency medical technicians on ambulances run by the Fort Worth Fire Department.

MedStar serves over 1 million residents in Fort Worth and 13 surrounding cities, including Haltom City, Lake Worth, Saginaw, Westworth Village and White Settlement.

Council member Carlos Flores said the landscape of emergency medical services has gone through major changes, and the current model isn’t sustainable.

“I want to commend MedStar and its leadership and its rank and file for doing a tremendous job to date,” Flores said before the vote. “They have been fighting an uphill battle. They ran out of financial runway, but they did not run out of dedication. We’re here to change the system to a sustainable model.”

MedStar received subsidies from Fort Worth and the other member cities until 2010. Expenses were low at that time, according to MedStar officials, and the income generated from insurance payments and a community paramedicine program made the ambulance service provider self-sustaining for a time.

Rising costs prompted MedStar to request funding from the City Council for the 2024 fiscal year.

In early August, Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker formed an Ad Hoc Council Committee on Emergency Medical Response to assess MedStar’s services and review other EMS models. They city hired an independent consultant, Fitch and Associates, to do a deep dive into Fort Worth’s EMS system and give regular reports to the ad hoc committee.

The committee considered four EMS models, including retaining MedStar in its current role but transferring governance to the Fort Worth City Council. In April, it recommended a fire department-based model incorporating current MedStar employees who would serve on ambulances but not work as firefighters.

Michael Glynn, the president of the Fort Worth Professional Firefighters Association, told the City Council that the transition will be a big change for the fire department, but they are looking forward to it.

“I believe that the decision you are about to make is good for the citizens, is good for the employees of MedStar and is good for the Fort Worth Fire Department,” Glynn said.

Other North Texas cities, including Dallas, Irving, Lewisville, Flower Mound and Burleson use fire-based EMS. Burleson made the transition from MedStar to its own in-house fire-based ambulance service in October.

Fort Worth officials have been working closely with the member cities during the assessment process, according to assistant city manager Valerie Washington.

“We want to make sure we understand their perspectives,” she told the Star-Telegram during a March phone interview.

The transition is expected to take anywhere from 12 to 18 months.

Matt Zavadsky, MedStar’s former chief transformation officer, previously told the Star-Telegram that they would support whatever decision the council makes.

“Whatever it’s going to take to make a smooth transition and make sure that the new system is as operationally efficient, and clinically proficient as possible, we want to help facilitate that,” Zavadsky said.

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