Ala. city officials reject ambulance service's 'vague' renewal application at tense meeting

Decatur officials voted to extend First Response Ambulance Service's current license for 6 months as opposed to granting immediate renewal


Bayne Hughes
The Decatur Daily, Ala.

DECATUR, Ala. — Tempers flared Thursday at the Ambulance Regulatory Board’s monthly meeting, with First Response Ambulance Service demanding that its license to operate in Decatur be renewed, and city officials arguing its application for renewal was deficient.

First Response is the sole ambulance service in Decatur, and its current license to operate in the city — called a Certificate of Public Necessity and Convenience (CPNC) — expires Sept. 23.

Several times during the meeting, newly appointed Fire Chief Tracy Thornton sought to calm down the contentious debate between city officials and First Response management and legal counsel.

Arguing that First Response failed to give complete answers in the CPNC application, Emergency Medical Services Coordinator Ashley England and Assistant City Attorney Chip Alexander said the current CPNC should be extended for six months while First Response files a more complete application for renewal.

Despite First Response's assertion that its application was complete and its CPNC should be recommended for immediate renewal, the board voted unanimously to pass along the recommendation of a six-month extension to the City Council.

England and First Response officials disagreed over whether the ambulance service turned in a completed CPNC application. Ambulance officials also accused England of not following the application review timeline set forth in the city ordinance.

David Childers, president and owner of HealthCare Investment Group, which includes First Response Ambulance Service, said the company did fill out the CPNC application as required, and within the deadline.

“We answered all of the questions,” Childers said.

England said First Response didn’t fully answer the application questions. As an example, he said he asked how many trucks they have and their answer was that eight are used during daily operations.

“I wanted to know how many are in their fleet and they wouldn’t answer my question,” England said.

Alexander said the application asked how many contractual agreements the service has and they answered, “None that affects the city.”

Alexander said after the meeting he thinks First Response is trying to be difficult and gave intentionally vague answers in the CPNC application.

“They just don’t want to answer our questions,” Alexander said.

Childers and First Response attorney Douglas Hargett argued the city wants the extension because it didn’t do its job in reporting its findings within 30 days of when the company turned in their CPNC application on June 12.

“We did what the ordinance requires so we should move forward with the (issuance of the) certificate,” Childers said after the meeting.

Alexander told the board that England “has been incredibly patient” with First Response and he feels the city and the board are “being gracious” in giving the company an extension.

“If First Response doesn’t want the extension and isn’t willing to answer the city’s questions, the only thing you can do is recommend the council doesn’t renew their CPNC,” Alexander said.

Hargett argued the ordinance doesn’t allow for an extension of the application deadline. He also said the extension is an attempt to place blame on First Response when it followed the ordinance.

However, Council President Paige Bibbee said the City Council will review First Response’s application at its 10 a.m. meeting on Monday.

“We will go line by line and review First Response’s answers,” Bibbee said. “We will give them a short period to answer any questions, but it will not be six months.”

The ARB sided with First Response in rejecting a $300 fine and a two-point penalty on First Response recommended by England. The citation referenced an ambulance failing to have a stair chair Sept. 1. England said the narrow wheelchair was needed to help Decatur Fire & Rescue on a lift-assist of a stroke victim.

First Response Chief Operating Officer Jason Tindal said the company now has all of its five stair chairs on ambulances that respond to emergency calls.

The board didn’t discuss the $2 million performance bond required by the ordinance. First Response officials claim financial institutions won’t issue a bond of that value. Alexander said he was told by a financial institution that First Response won’t provide a proper financial form so it can make a decision on whether to issue the bond.

The City Council will need to resolve this issue before issuing a certificate of public necessity and convenience to the ambulance service. First Response has argued the bond amount is far too high, while Alexander has said it is necessary to give the city the ability to quickly bring in another ambulance service if First Response ceases operations.

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©2020 The Decatur Daily (Decatur, Ala.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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