The Importance of Preserving Milwaukee County's EMS System

Oct. 17, 2011


More than a million people in Milwaukee County rely on its Emergency Medical Services (EMS) 911 system to respond to emergencies and save lives. Now, that EMS system is threatened, and lives that could be saved may be lost.


The county-coordinated 911 EMS system began 38 years ago through a cooperative agreement between Milwaukee County, Municipal Fire Departments and the Medical College of Wisconsin. The visionaries who crafted the agreement, Richard Nyklewicz, Bill O’Donnell, Arnold Klentz, John Morch, Charlie Aprahamian, Joseph Darin, John Peterson, and Donald Tresch, understood that a coordinated regional system is the key to operational efficiencies and excellent patient care. Throughout the years, the 3 partners have invested in the system’s infrastructure to assure that it would be ready and able to respond to not only the 238 ¬daily requests for emergency medical care, but also to any disaster occurring in Milwaukee County.


The EMS system’s secret to success is having each partner make use of its strengths. Milwaukee County coordinates the educational programming, quality assurance, information management, communications and medical oversight. The Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) assures that high quality patient care practices are based on the latest scientific evidence. The municipal fire departments provide the personnel and administration to serve their communities for both fire and medical emergencies.


Each Fire Department ambulance and fire truck is staffed with dual trained fire firefighter - emergency medical technicians or firefighter paramedics who use uniform patient care protocols, life saving equipment and medications to provide time critical medical care. They are aided by reliable radio communication links to the area receiving hospitals, and real-time 24 hour access to a specially trained MCW emergency physician for medical advice and consultation. These are the core building blocks of an EMS system that assures readiness and adaptability, in the face of threats and terrorism, and as we move into an uncertain health care economic future.


No individual municipality can replicate the strength, efficiency and life saving patient care currently provided by the Milwaukee County EMS system without first recreating the system’s infrastructure at substantial cost. Every critical examination of Milwaukee County’s government has lauded the Emergency Medical Services system’s inter-government cooperation and effectiveness.


If the goal is providing optimal care to the ill and injured, the current EMS system is the answer. Having devoted the past 20 years of my medical career in guiding the dedicated men and women who provide life saving care in the streets, I implore the decision makers not to dissolve the Milwaukee County EMS 911 system that allows them to do their job heroically.




Ronald G. Pirrallo, MD, MHSA, FACEP


Professor and Associate Chair, External Affairs

Department of Emergency Medicine

Medical College of Wisconsin


Director of Medical Services,

Milwaukee County EMS


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