The Jefferson County Commission approved earlier this month a contract to analyze if the county’s emergency medical services and fire department should be merged.

It’s an important step to take in a long-running debate.

The Jefferson County Rural Fire District #1 and the Jefferson County EMS District are separate entities. Does it makes sense that they merge? Does the county effectively have two people doing administrative jobs that one person could do? What would be the steps involved to merge? Would any change save residents money? Would it bring 24/7 coverage? Would it help save lives and protect property?

County commissioners awarded a contract to Matrix Consulting Group to find out. Matrix has done many similar analyses for other communities

The issue has been looked at before in Jefferson County. An informal group of residents analyzed the possibility in 2003. The group concluded it was a good idea, but the idea went nowhere.

Last year, voters rejected by a 2-1 margin the EMS district’s request for a permanent tax base. It’s hard to know what voters meant by that vote. But the merger issue was brought up. People were urged to vote “no” to force the districts to consider a merger.

County officials and the employees of the two districts have a responsibility to provide the best fire and ambulance service they can. They should treat this study — not as a threat to their turf — but as a way to find out if they can improve public safety by keeping the existing arrangement or merging.