Ala. EMS agency falls short of city response time ordinance

The ordinance requires 90 percent of First Response Ambulance Service's in-city calls be completed within eight minutes


By Bayne Hughes
The Decatur Daily

DECATUR, Ala. — First Response Ambulance Service failed to meet the response times mandated by a Decatur ordinance during the final quarter of 2018, according to data released Tuesday by Decatur Fire & Rescue.

The ordinance requires 90 percent of its in-city calls be completed within eight minutes. The ambulance service met the eight-minute mark on 88 percent of the calls during the three months of the fourth quarter, Division Chief Janice Johnson of Decatur Fire & Rescue reported at Tuesday's city Emergency Medical Services committee meeting. It had the same compliance rate in the fourth quarter of 2017.

First Response Ambulance Service failed to meet the response times mandated by a Decatur ordinance during the final quarter of 2018, according to data released Tuesday by Decatur Fire & Rescue. (Photo/FRAS)
First Response Ambulance Service failed to meet the response times mandated by a Decatur ordinance during the final quarter of 2018, according to data released Tuesday by Decatur Fire & Rescue. (Photo/FRAS)

David Childers, First Response director of operations, said the 2 percent shortfall equaled an average of 9 seconds per call.

“Nine seconds can be dispatch dropping a call,” Childers said. “Or, it might be the crew was not in the vehicle. It could be a safe drive down the Beltline (Road) at 3 in the morning. There are a lot of contributing factors.”

Childers said Decatur’s only ambulance service has made some changes to try to lower response times, including posting a truck at old Fire Station No. 1 and a truck at Wilson Morgan Park.

Decatur Fire Chief Tony Grande, the EMS committee chairman, said there’s only one solution if an ambulance service is that close on response times.

“The only solution is to increase the number of assets on the road,” Grande said. “And that doesn’t mean several ambulances. It means one ambulance would allow them to meet the requirement.”

In response to Childers saying his service is setting up trucks in different part of the city, Grande said, “If they have a plan, it would be nice for them to let us know.”

First Response did not request any exemptions when they exceeded the eight-minute mark. It exceeded eight minutes on 183 out of 1,535 Category 1 and Category 2 in-city calls, according to data presented at the meeting.

Johnson reported First Response had eight ambulance breakdowns, a number she said benefited from the company buying two new trucks. She said 15 issues were found during an inspection of the company’s trucks.

In the police jurisdiction, the city's ambulance ordinance requires that First Response respond to 90 percent of calls within 12 minutes. In the fourth quarter of 2018, according to Decatur Fire & Rescue data, it met the 12-minute mark on 83 percent of calls, two percentage points worse than in the last quarter of 2017

The ambulance service exceeded the 12-minute response time on 19 of 111 Category 1 and Category 2 calls in the police jurisdiction, according to the data presented at the meeting for the fourth quarter of 2018.

Lifeguard Ambulance Service, which covers all of Morgan County except Decatur and Trinity, continued to roll more calls to First Response than First Response did to Lifeguard.

Lifeguard rolled four in October, four in November and five in Decatur. First Response rolled three in October and December and none in November.

Charlie Jones, head of business development for Lifeguard, said rolled calls happen when call volume is high and that’s unpredictable, especially in a county where emergency locations are so spread out as compared to the city.

“There are so many variables,” Jones said. “It depends on the day.”

Johnson reported that Decatur Fire & Rescue met the eight-minute mark on 95 percent of its in-city calls in the fourth quarter, an improvement over its 94 percent rate in 2017. It met the 12-minute mark in the police jurisdiction on 100 percent of the calls.

The ambulance ordinance provides the EMS Committee with few enforcement options. The City Council has said it is planning to revise the ordinance. An early draft included financial penalties for noncompliance.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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