Ala. fire chief wants better EMS provider

Fire Chief Tony Grande said there's really nothing the city can do short of finding a replacement service if the ambulance service isn't meeting the standards

By Bayne Hughes
The Decatur Daily

DECATUR, Ala. — Decatur City Council President Paige Bibbee has proposed putting the city's ambulance service provider on a contract -- instead of a permit -- as a way to increase the standards of service.

The city's emergency medical services provider is First Response Ambulance Service, which operates under a permit established by city ordinance.

Documents obtained through a public records request by The Decatur Daily show First Response in 2017 has failed to meet on average the requirement 90 percent of ambulances' response times are 8 minutes or less within the city and 12 minutes or less in the police jurisdiction.

The Emergency Medical Services Committee, a city board consisting of the fire chief, police chief, the city's chief medical officer and Decatur Morgan Hospital, can chastise the ambulance service for not meeting the requirement.

However, Bibbee and Fire Chief Tony Grande said there's really nothing the city can do short of finding a replacement service if the ambulance service isn't meeting the standards city officials want.

Bibbee said this lack of enforcement power leads to lesser service, while the EMS Committee spends its meetings squabbling and not accomplishing much of anything.

"They spent two hours arguing at a meeting I went to recently," Bibbee said.

Bibbee said a contract would establish ambulance service requirements and financial penalties for failing to meet those requirements.

"We can make our own standards for emergency medical services," Bibbee said. "If we want higher quality service, we need to do it with a contract."

Councilman Chuck Ard said he supports the idea of putting the ambulance service on contract, but he would want the city's Legal Department to examine the issue.

"I know there's a lot of consternation that goes along with the EMS Committee," Ard said. "I think it would be great to get everyone together and figure things out."

First Response Director of Operation David Childers could not be reached for comment.

Councilman Charles Kirby, a vocal supporter of First Response, said he doesn't believe there need to be changes to how the ambulance service operates.

Kirby said the people who make a big deal of First Response's response rate forget that Decatur Emergency Medical Service Inc., which was exclusive in Decatur for 14 years until First Response took over in 2012, "had a 50 percent response rate.

"We've never ever been at 90 percent, and our service in Decatur has never been this good," he said.

Kirby said Morgan County 911, Decatur Morgan Hospital and Decatur Fire & Rescue need to be held accountable for their parts in keeping the ambulance service from meeting response time requirements.

Kirby said he believes First Response has been criticized unfairly because some in the community had a financial interest in Decatur EMS and didn't want that service to have any competition before it went bankrupt.

Grande said putting the ambulance service on a contract is preferable over the current permit system because there would be penalties for failure to meet requirements. He said the city would seek proposals from First Response, other area services and even contact ambulance services in other states.

"A contract is less burdensome," Grande said.

A former Knoxville, Tennessee, firefighter, Grande said that city had a five-year contract with an option to renew with a private ambulance service. The contract required constant reviews by the police and fire departments.

Ryan Welty, Morgan County 911 director, said the county put Lifeguard Ambulance Service on a contract in July 2015 that requires a 90-percent rate within 20 minutes. The service is fined $1,000 per call for failure to meet the average 90-percent rate during the month.

Lifeguard has never missed its response rate requirement in a month, Welty said.

Welty said Lifeguard also must meet certain radio system and computer software standards. The state enforces the standards on vehicles for all ambulance services, including Lifeguard and First Response, he said.

While standards increase with a contract, Grande said the highest standards are when the city runs its own ambulance service as Councilman Billy Jackson, who could not be reached for comment, recently suggested the city do.

It was estimated that it would cost $8 million to $10 million for the city to start its own ambulance service, but Grande said he believes he could reduce that almost in half.

Kirby said he doesn't believe the city will ever have the money to start its own EMS service.

"We don't have $8 million to $15 million," Kirby said. "Our city insurance cost would jump sky high. We would lose money hand over fist. We would need a tax increase just to pay for it."

Copyright 2017 The Decatur Daily

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