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Colo. county reshuffles after city pulls out of ambulance service

Since Colorado Springs left the agency to form its own contract, county officials have been scrambling to maintain services

By Lisa Walton
The Gazette

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The agency that oversees ambulance services for El Paso County will look a little different after this month.

The El Paso County Emergency Services Agency, established almost two decades ago in an agreement between the City of Colorado Springs and the county to streamline and oversee ambulance services in the region, will be reconstituted as the El Paso County Emergency Services Authority. The agreement was signed Tuesday between the county and the Fountain.

The authority was created in response to the city leaving the agency to form its own contract with American Medical Response, which was signed in December, effective Tuesday.

"For us to continue on, we had to have another municipality join the county," Emergency Services Agency board chairman Jim Reid.

He said the authority will have the same goals, the same aims, and many of the same board members-minus Colorado Springs officials. Board members will include elected officials, EMTs and paramedics, doctors and fire chiefs.

The county is still working to put together its contract. Since Colorado Springs announced plans to pull out from the ESA in June, county officials have been scrambling to establish a new contract that maintains quick response times, and keep service costs down while meeting the ambulance needs of participating fire districts.

It won't happen by the time the new contract with Colorado Springs goes into effect, so county officials recently approved an interim 90-day contract with AMR to keep ambulance services running while they work to place new board members and piece together a new contract.

"As far as the contract goes, it's just a matter of taking our time," said Reid, adding that they're focused on patient care.

After the city gave notice to separate from the ESA board, the county and other municipalities within El Paso County were offered to the opportunity to join the Colorado Springs contract with AMR, but no agencies elected to join, said Colorado Springs Fire Department Deputy Chief Steve Dubay.

County officials were not comfortable being part of a contract where Colorado Springs would have full control, said El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark.

While the Fountain Fire Department and the Cimarron Hills Fire Protection District were offered the option of joining the Colorado Springs contract, both elected to work with the ESA.

When it comes to ambulance services, fire agencies have three options: they can stay with the county consortium, they can buy their own ambulances and provide fire-based medical service with the option of receiving mutual aid, or they can contract with another ambulance service.

"It's not that (Colorado Springs) wasn't the better option, we felt it was important to have an ESA for the county," said Fountain Fire Chief Darin Anstine.

"Otherwise every fire district would have to figure out what to do, if we didn't move forward and do this."

Either way, he said, the agreement would not change services in Fountain, which like Tri Lakes/Monument Fire, Ellicott, Calhan and several other agencies, provides its own fire-based ambulance services. Fountain participates in the ESA agreement to receive mutual aid, or supplemental ambulance service, for when its resources are tied up, or when AMR units can respond faster. Several fire departments in the region, such as Tri-Lakes/Monument Fire Department, are provided the mutual aid through a signatory fire district, which is part of the contract.

Having two contracts in the region adds complexity to the reporting but works well, said AMR spokeswoman Laura Saenz. "Both contracts allow for the most appropriate ambulance to be sent to the patient," she said.

Cimarron Hills Fire Chief Matthew Love says his district has a better chance of helping out neighboring fire agencies by participating in the ESA agreement and says the new contract has opened up additional opportunities.

The ESA's proposed agreement will put an AMR ambulance in one of the his district's fire stations, he said.

"Right now, we feel it's in everybody's best interest to stay in the ESA," he said.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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