BILL TO ESTABLISH THE VIRGIN ISLANDS FIRE AND EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES HELD IN COMMITTEE

ST. CROIX- Members of the Committee on Health, Hospitals, and Human Services, chaired by Senator Novelle E. Francis, Jr., met Monday in the Frits E. Lawaetz Legislative Conference Room to receive testimony on Bill No. 34-0101 which seeks to establish the “Virgin Islands Fire and Emergency Medical Services.” Bill No. 34-0101 would integrate Emergency Medical Services with the Fire Services to create a new Virgin Islands Fire and Emergency Medical Services. The sponsor of the bill is Senator Donna Frett-Gregory at the request of the Governor.

In support of the measure, VIFS Director Daryl George stated that the integration will allow for more efficient delivery of emergency services with the opportunity for rapid response time with the strategic deployment of resources. Sharing the breakdown of the merge, George noted that assigned emergency medical services personnel, vehicles, and equipment will operate from the main fire stations, territory-wide. Concurringly, Marise James, Esq., former policy advisor to the Office of the Governor, indicated that the integration is logical because there are fewer structural fires and increased medical emergencies. She noted that VIFEMS is also a viable solution for staff shortages and ongoing overtime payments for EMS and VIFS. OMB Director Jenifer O’Neal added that the combined overtime costs for EMS and VIFS total $20,000,000 from 2015 to the present. As of August 2021, VIFS overtime costs totals $1,538,242, while EMS total $569,915 with specific employees earning $50,000 in overtime payments. O’Neal said that it is anticipated that the costs of overtime payment will rise by the end of the year. Fiscally, VIFEMS will be funded by the General Fund appropriation, the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Fund, federal grant awards, and the Emergency Services Fund, according to O’Neal.

Senator Francis and his colleagues questioned the lack of details in the planned integration. Francis called the proposed integration a charged, emotional issue on the parts of both Fire and EMS employees. He affirmed the Legislature’s commitment to support the objectives of the legislation, which include improved response times in emergency care and building overall capacity in the provision of emergency services to the community.

After several rounds of questioning by committee members, the Bill was held in committee pending further development of the measure.

Senators attending the meeting: Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Kenneth L. Gittens, Sammuel Carrión, Kurt A. Vialet, Marvin A. Blyden. However, Senator Janelle K. Sarauw was excused.