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Pinellas may change ambulance policy at football games | News

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Pinellas may change ambulance policy at football games

Largo, FL -- Pinellas County is finding a way to get ambulances closer to its Friday night high school football games, after a Largo student took a frightening hit last month.

But the district says it's doing so thanks to volunteer measures, and no official changes yet in policy.

Thank goodness Taj Taylor is all right. But the Largo High School football player's injury exposed a potential shortfall in Pinellas County's safety net for its young athletes.

In 2004, the district opted to cancel its ambulance contract for Friday night football games, opting instead for six-day-a-week athletic trainers at all sporting events and practices... not just Fridays, and not just football.

Still, Athletic Director Nick Grasso says he took Taj's injury - and his parents' concerns - seriously enough to convene a panel of medical and emergency experts.

That report, forwarded to the Superintendent two weeks ago, went to school board members this week. It includes a letter from Pinellas' EMS division manager Craig Hare, calling the current system "the correct approach."

Hare called Pinellas's approach "cutting edge, even after 10 years of implementation."

Grasso says something else to come out of that meeting is that although they're not formally changing policy and not paying for it, some cities have said they will now voluntarily place their EMS units at Friday night football games.

Grasso says cities that immediately agreed include Pinellas Park, Dunedin, Seminole and Gulfport.

"It's the same thing as we've asked them to do in the past and they've stepped up and they're doing it again," said Grasso.

In cities where the district hasn't yet received the same commitment, SunStar Ambulance has said it will station crews closer to the ball fields on Friday nights.

But in neither case are emergency responders dedicated to the game or on the field. That means if there's another emergency nearby, the crews could be dispatched to it and leave the area.

"It is a little disheartening to think that the ambulance could be even further away in responding to a call," said Taj's mother, Melissa Bonacci.

Bonacci says she's grateful they've taken the matter seriously, and supports any effort aimed at reducing emergency response time. The time saved could be life-saving minutes, she says, when kids like Taj are lying there motionless.

Eventually she'd still like to see her son back on the field, and wouldn't mind seeing an EMS crew right there on that day as well.

"But I know that they're doing what they can and making efforts and pushing forward, and I appreciate that," she said.

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