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Ala. medics walk off job, demand paychecks

Employees apparently staged a brief walkout to protest erratic paydays; its ambulances were out of service for upward of three hours

The Decatur Daily

DECATUR, Ala. — Decatur Emergency Medical Services Inc. may have violated its agreement with the city when its ambulances were out of service for upward of three hours Friday, a member of the city’s EMS Committee said.

Decatur’s two ambulance services are each required to daily operate two 24-hour trucks and a 12-hour truck.

DEMSI employees apparently staged a brief walkout to protest erratic paydays. The company’s first truck went off-line at 5:30 p.m. DEMSI did not have trucks providing service between 5:54 and about 8:30 p.m.

Committee member Dale Trammell said Saturday that DEMSI’s apparent financial problems are an ongoing concern that could lead to contract termination.

“If they can’t keep units on the road because they can’t pay people, we might have to look at their CPNC,” Trammell said.

The CPNC, or certificate of public necessity and convenience, is the ambulance service’s deal with the city.

Councilman Charles Kirby, the City Council liaison to the EMS Committee, agreed with Trammell.

Kirby said city code and DEMSI’s contract “don’t care how you go below three trucks. You don’t get below three trucks.”

Ryan Welty, Morgan County 911 director, said First Response, the city’s other ambulance service, was providing most of the coverage Saturday.

First Response had five medic trucks and three basic trucks operating Saturday while DEMSI had two medic trucks online.

“They’re not meeting the guidelines, but two is better than none,” said Ted McKelvey, Decatur Fire and Rescue Battalion chief and EMS coordinator.

McKelvey said city attorneys will look at whether DEMSI violated its contract.

City Council President Gary Hammon said the city needs to enforce its ordinance, which requires an ambulance service to show it is financially able to provide the service when it applies for a certificate.

“Accurate financial statements are supposed to be a part of the approval process,” Hammon said. “Maybe we’re not enforcing a part of our ordinance as we should be.”

Kirby said the EMS Committee is doing its job, but it is an advisory group. He thinks the monitoring process is flawed.

“We need to enforce the code, which requires financial stability,” Kirby said.

Hammon said Friday’s incident confirmed the city needs more than one provider.

First Response became the city’s second ambulance provider in May 2012. It marked the first time Decatur has had multiple ambulance services since 1988.

First Response added two ambulances to avoid the gap in service. It had five ambulances in service for most of the time DEMSI was down.

Welty said First Response employees on the two ambulances extended their shift to provide the coverage.

Kirby said going to two services has been successful in reducing response times. He said he doesn’t think competition is the reason DEMSI may be struggling financially.

“You haven’t heard of the other ambulance service having problems with payroll and lapses in coverage,” Kirby said.

Officials said any moves against DEMSI would start with the EMS Committee. Its next meeting isn’t scheduled until April, so a special meeting would be necessary for immediate action.

The City Council has final say on whether to cancel a contract.

DEMSI General Manager Frankie Thaxton and attorney Barney Lovelace could not be reached for comment.

Copyright 2014 The Decatur Daily
All Rights Reserved

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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