Ala. ambulance service seeks elimination of 'double jeopardy' response time penalties

First Response Ambulance Service criticized the city of Decatur's penalty system of points and fines, adding that its response time requirements are higher than the national standard

Bayne Hughes
The Decatur Daily, Ala.

DECATUR, Ala. — The owner of Decatur's only ambulance service said Tuesday he would seek to eliminate or change the fines and penalties included in the city's ambulance ordinance.

At the Ambulance Regulatory Board's monthly meeting Tuesday, Fire Chief Tracy Thornton invited First Response Ambulance Service officials to submit any proposed changes to the ordinance.

Thornton said he wants any proposal to go through a process that includes submission to and review by EMS Coordinator Ashley England and himself, a review and recommendation by the ARB and final approval or rejection by the City Council.

David Childers, president and owner of HealthCare Investment Group, which owns First Response, said after the meeting that his proposed changes will cover most of the 40-page ordinance approved in August 2019.

"We want to make Decatur's ordinance in line with other cities in our state and national standards," Childers said.

While wholesale changes will be proposed, Childers said First Response particularly wants to eliminate the "double jeopardy" penalties of fines and points that could threaten his company's viability.

If the ambulance service receives 26 points for not living up to the ordinance's requirements, the service could lose its certificate to operate in Decatur. Financial penalties of up to $30,000 are also possible.

A major point of contention is the response-time requirement included in both the previous and current ordinances, but with enforcement mechanisms only in the current one. The ordinance imposes points and fines if First Response fails to arrive at the site of a call within eight minutes on 90% of its quarterly calls in the city limits and within 12 minutes on 90% of its calls in the police jurisdiction.

First Response officials complain that these requirements are harsher than national standards.

"We want them to look at other cities' ordinances," Childers said. "It's very frustrating that other cities don't penalize their ambulance services with points or fines."

City officials' response has been that Decatur residents deserve stringent requirements. They also point out that First Response has only fallen short twice since the ordinance went into effect last year, despite rarely meeting response-time requirements before.

Thornton said he, the ARB and England might support changes to the penalties in the ordinance but he doesn't expect them to support eliminating the penalties.

New Councilman Carlton McMasters said he believes the council will be willing to change the ordinance but he would like to see officials from First Response, Decatur Fire & Rescue and the city's Legal Department reach compromises.

"There's got to be an open path of communication," McMasters said.

Council President Jacob Ladner said it's not up to First Response as a city contractor to rewrite the ordinance.

"The city has to create an ordinance that's best for the safety of our citizens," Ladner said.

Also at the meeting, Childers said he and city attorneys haven't found a financial company that will back a $250,000 performance bond. The ordinance requires First Response to obtain a $2 million bond, but the previous council majority in October indicated it was receptive to lowering that bond amount to $250,000.

City and ambulance officials are trying to reach a solution to the bond issue before the end of 2020.

England reported that Decatur Fire & Rescue met response time requirements 95% of the time in the city and 100% of the time in the police jurisdiction in the third quarter of the year.

First Response met response time requirements for 94% of the calls in the city and 93.1% in the police jurisdiction, Chief Operating Officer Jason Tindal said.


(c)2020 The Decatur Daily (Decatur, Ala.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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