Appeal of single call saves Ala. ambulance service from another fine, penalties

An appeal to a call response reduced the time by 15 seconds, allowing First Response Ambulance to hit the required response time maximums


Bayne Hughes
The Decatur Daily, Ala.

An appeal of 15 seconds on one call may have saved Decatur's only ambulance service from a $20,000 fine, 20 points and possible company extinction for failure to meet the city’s response-time requirements in the first quarter of 2020, officials said Tuesday.

At Decatur’s Ambulance Review Board monthly meeting, First Response Ambulance Service General Manager David Childers said the successful appeal was based on an error that is an example of problems in the recording system.

An appeal of 15 seconds on one call may have saved Decatur's only ambulance service from a $20,000 fine, 20 points and possible company extinction for failure to meet the city’s response-time requirements in the first quarter of 2020. (Photo/First Response Ambulance)
An appeal of 15 seconds on one call may have saved Decatur's only ambulance service from a $20,000 fine, 20 points and possible company extinction for failure to meet the city’s response-time requirements in the first quarter of 2020. (Photo/First Response Ambulance)

“With a $20,000 fine and 20 points, we would be out of business,” Childers said. “EMS and the Fire Department have made themselves judge, jury and executioner.”

Childers also asked the ARB to reconsider the $10,000 fine and 10 points imposed in January for First Response failing to meet response-time requirements in the police jurisdiction during the fourth quarter of 2019. The city requires the ambulance service to respond to the scene of 90% of its calls in the city limits in eight minutes or less and 12 minutes or less in the police jurisdiction.

Under an ordinance approved last summer, the city can impose fines and points for failure to meet response-time requirements. The ambulance service would lose its certificate to operate in the city with 30 points.

EMS Coordinator Ashley England told the ARB that Childers appealed a mistake in the recording of a February call in the police jurisdiction.

“There was a discrepancy between when the dispatcher said the ambulance arrived on scene versus when the crew said it arrived on scene,” England said.

England said he reviewed the appeal and reduced the call response by 15 seconds. This meant that First Response met the 12-minute response time for 87.6% of its police jurisdiction calls in February and increased the percentage of timely responses for the first quarter to 90.7%, which meets the requirements of the ambulance ordinance. Fines and penalties are based on quarterly results.

Before the successful appeal, the service was falling short of the 90% requirement. If England had not upheld the appeal, fines and points would have doubled after the previous failure to meet response time requirements in the fourth quarter of 2019.

England said his decision to uphold the appeal of the one call shows the city is “doing its due diligence” on looking at the ambulance service’s response time. He said he is taking the time to examine the numbers and any issues brought to him.

“My job is to make a recommendation to the board based on the 90%,” England said. “In my opinion, we’re being lenient.”

Childers and Jeanie Pharis, director of Morgan County 911, said there are problems with the recording of response times, such as a lack of internet access in some areas of the police jurisdiction and 911 operators not recording the ambulance’s arrival on scene because they’re handling multiple calls at the same time.

Childers said his company shouldn’t be penalized while there are problems in the recording of response times.

England said firefighters radio in to dispatch and hit a button that records the time of their arrival on scene. First Response uses an auto-arrive signal that records when the truck stops at the scene, but it depends on an internet signal and isn’t always dependable.

Childers said sometimes ambulance drivers “get excited” when they arrive on scene and forget to call in or hit the button to the recorder box.

Council President Paige Bibbee said firefighters “are trained to call in and hit the button.” She said First Response has failed to use the same training for its ambulance drivers.

England said First Response only appeals one or two calls a month, and Assistant City Attorney Chip Alexander pointed out that the company could have appealed more cases in which there may have been a problem with the reported call-response time.

First Response has appealed the penalties from the fourth quarter of 2019 to the City Council, but an appeal hearing has been delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Bibbee said the hearing is set for June 1.

Childers asked the ARB to rescind the 2019 penalties because of problems with the system, but Alexander said the ARB can’t rescind the penalties since that decision is now with the City Council.

Childers also asked the board to recommend changing the required average response times to match what he said are national standards that give an ambulance crew nine minutes, rather than eight, to respond to a call.

Bibbee said Decatur Fire & Rescue responds on an eight-minute standard, and England said the Fire Department does not appeal a call if there’s a mistake by a crew or Morgan County 911.

“If the Fire Department can do it, they (First Response) can do it,” Bibbee said.

Alexander said the ARB can recommend a change to match Childers’ request, but it’s up to the council to approve a change to the city ordinance.

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©2020 The Decatur Daily (Decatur, Ala.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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