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Ala. ambulance co. falls short on rigs 4th day in a row

DEMSI hasn't met requirements since workers walked off the job for three hours Friday; meanwhile, First Response declined a call after an argument over location

The Decatur Daily

DECATUR, Ala. — For the fourth day in a row, Decatur Emergency Medical Services Inc. on Monday fell below the minimum number of staffed ambulances it is required to have available for emergency calls.

"I don't want to push anyone out of business, but we can't tolerate this, either," Decatur City Council President Gary Hammon said.

The license that allows DEMSI to operate — called a Certificate of Public Necessity and Convenience — requires it to have two ambulances available at all times. It must have a third ambulance operating at least 12 hours a day. The same requirements apply to its sole competitor in Decatur, First Response.

DEMSI had only two medic ambulances online Monday.

The city's two licensed ambulance services can choose what 12 hours they will operate the third ambulance during the course of the day.

The other ambulance service, First Response, had three ambulances online at 12:30 p.m. Monday. One broke down Monday morning on Interstate 565.

Morgan County 911 Director Ryan Welty said DEMSI has fallen short of the minimum number of ambulances every day since Friday, when a work stoppage by employees took all their ambulances off-line for about three hours.

"It's obvious we have a problem with DEMSI that needs to be resolved," Welty said.

He declined to comment on ways to resolve the problem until an ongoing investigation by Decatur Fire and Rescue Battalion Chief Ted McKelvey, the EMS coordinator, is complete.

DEMSI operations manager Frankie Thaxton did not return calls. DEMSI attorney Barney Lovelace declined comment Monday until he could speak to management.

Hammon said the EMS Committee must make a recommendation on how to deal with DEMSI.

The problems with DEMSI also affect the city's enforcement authority on any infractions by First Response, Hammon said. With DEMSI not keeping enough ambulances online, the city is heavily dependent on First Response. If it violates any requirements, the city has little it can do.

"Cancelling their license is the only penalty," Hammon said, which does not work when only one ambulance service is healthy. "How do you punish somebody? The City Council has been trying to act for years, but we keep being told we need to go through the EMS Committee. Now that it has come to a head, everybody says it's City Council's problem."

While the EMS Committee can recommend revocation of an ambulance service's license, the final decision goes to the City Council.

McKelvey said he is in the process of investigating DEMSI's failure to keep available the required number of ambulances. When he has finished the investigation, he said he will forward it to the city's Legal Department for review.

The next scheduled EMS Committee meeting is in April, but McKelvey said an earlier meeting may be called to deal with the issue.

The city has an informal arrangement with the not-for-profit ambulance service Huntsville Emergency Medical Services Inc. that allows the city to request assistance if too few ambulances are available for emergency calls.

The addition of penalties short of suspension, revocation or alteration of the license that allows the ambulance services to operate would require an amendment to the city's ambulance ordinance.

"There's just been some discussion in process at looking at maybe trying to do something different with the ordinance," McKelvey said. "Nothing's been put to paper on that."

Hammon said he was not sure if the City Council would revoke DEMSI's license even if the EMS Committee recommends it.

"I don't know what we're going to do," Hammon said.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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