New Policy May Delay First Responders at Walt Disney World

The Reedy Creek Fire Chief recently enacted a new policy that may delay emergency assistance at Walt Disney World, according to union representatives.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, an April 11 internal email (provided by union chief Jon Shirey) prohibits the Reedy Creek Fire Department from requesting assistance from neighboring fire departments for “non-emergency transports, medical calls, or supplement responses to calls such as structure fires.”

The department can still request assistance from the Orange and Osceola County Fire Rescues for emergencies, but communications staff who take the calls have to notify their commanders of the request.

A grievance has been filed, claiming that the new policy violates the existing contract. Negotiations are ongoing.

Shirey told the Sentinel that the policy “could delay critical care, and firefighters are already seeing its effects.” He cited situations that begin as or appear at first to be non-emergencies, but rapidly worsen. “It’s just going to lead to bad outcomes,” said Shirley. “It’s not a matter of ‘if’ — it’s just ‘when.’”

Shirey spoke about a call he responded to on December 22 about a woman who had fallen on the road near Disney’s Art of Animation Resort. When he and other firefighters arrived, they discovered that she had jumped from a moving car. She was taken to Orlando Regional Medical Center by Orange County paramedics about half an hour after the original call.

Under the new policy, she likely would have had to wait longer for a Reedy Creek ambulance.

“There is a very significant difference there,” Shirey said, “but the system didn’t pick that up or maybe they didn’t have that information at the time.”

After the new policy was put in place, a 13-year-old with a head injury had to wait half an hour for a Reedy Creek ambulance on April 15. The teen had fainted and hit his head in EPCOT at around 10:16 a.m. First responders arrived within four minutes, but an ambulance was not available until 10:46 a.m.

In audio from the call, a responder said, “If he deteriorates, I’ll just take him in my truck.”

The dispatcher referenced the new policy and stated, “You have to wait until a rescue becomes available.”

According to Reedy Creeky spokeswoman Eryka Washington Perry, the dispatcher determined it was not an emergency, which a paramedic at the scene confirmed. The patient was conscious while waiting for the ambulance and being monitored.

Shirey worries that guests will blame the first responders for delays.

“They’re gonna wonder why we took so long and why we weren’t here quicker to deal with this problem,” he said. “And we could say, ‘Oh, it’s our chief’s fault,’ but tell that to the family of somebody who’s going through a medical problem. They don’t want to hear excuses; they want you to fix whatever’s going on.”

The policy is adding to the already high anxiety felt by Reedy Creek firefighters worried about the possible dissolution of the district next year, which could lead to them losing their jobs and benefits.

Shirey believes the policy was changed to limit documentation of the department’s requests for assistance.

“If we keep beating them up over the amount of mutual aid and keep ringing the bell of how we’re understaffed and it’s not safe,” Shirey said, “well, if you take away the mutual aid calls, that’s one less argument that we can use.”

Neither Disney nor the district responded to the Sentinel’s request for comment on this claim. The district also declined to confirm the new policy’s existence and rejected a public records request.

Washington Perry confirmed that the district is hiring and said, “Reedy Creek Improvement District has and continues to closely and continually monitor staffing levels and ensures we are appropriately staffed.”

“We take it very personally,” Shirey said of the policy, “and if somebody were to have a bad outcome from something that’s wholly preventable, it’s going to be hard for us.”

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