Today’s Burning Question: If a fire department starts a medical first responder program, can the department stop this service at any time?
Our department covers a city and an unincorporated district in the county funded by county taxes payers. We offer fire and medical first responder services. Due to a reduction in taxes from the district our City Government wants to cut medical first responder services to the district. Can we legally stop this service to the district? We will keep all services for City residents.
Answer: You raise a very troubling question with a theoretical answer and a practical answer that do not align.
Theoretically – a municipality should be able to discontinue any service it is not required by law to provide. Liability-wise – the theoretical answer should always protect you against lawsuits and criminal actions (such as manslaughter) should someone die when a service is cut. Again, just to be clear – this answer assumes there are no legal mandates that require a department to provide the service…. That is a big assumption that must be addressed first and foremost. It can only be determined by a review of applicable laws in your jurisdiction, and the agreements between the parties.
The practical answer is more problematic. If you are not aware of the Alameda case – check my blog for postings on the case of Raymond Zack, who drown in Alameda, California on Memorial Day, 2011.
Legally, the city stopped providing water rescue services. In a wrongful death lawsuit from Zack’s family the courts upheld the city’s right to do so… but read some of the comments from angry citizens who blamed (not the city but) the “greedy” and “pampered” firefighters for Zack’s death… Some claimed the firefighters lacked the courage to attempt a rescue and ought to be ashamed. Some wanted the firefighters charged criminally. Most (including many firefighters) condemned the firefighters for following their orders… asking questions like “What were they thinking”… “How can so called professionals be so uncaring”… etc. etc. etc.
So legally, it is possible for a fire department to stop providing a service. Practically speaking however, it is not so easy. The firefighters will likely bear the brunt of any criticism if … scratch that… when the inevitable happens and someone dies. Elected officials will likely do as politicians have done since the beginning of recorded history… deny responsibility and try to shift the blame… and it will likely be shifted to us!!!
Getting back to the specifics of your question – so long as the city is under no legal obligation to provide first responder service to the district, the service may be stopped. THEORETICALLY.