Ala. ambulance service says city's response time requirements are too short, unsafe

The service is calling for the requirements to match national standards as it appeals $10,000 in response-time penalties


Bayne Hughes
The Decatur Daily, Ala.

DECATUR, Ala. — Decatur's only ambulance service missed its response time requirements in both the city and police jurisdiction in February, but First Response representatives continued to press Tuesday for longer minimum times and cited safety concerns.

First Response responded to 88.6% of its in-city calls within eight minutes last month, ending its two-month string of responding within that time on at least 90% of calls as required.

The ambulance service also fell short again in the police jurisdiction, with an 81% average of responses meeting the 12-minute response time. First Response previously failed to respond within 12 minutes on 90% of its calls in the PJ for the fourth quarter so it was assessed a $10,000 fine and docked 10 points during a Feb. 25 meeting. The service has appealed the penalties to the City Council.

First Response General Manager David Childers told the Ambulance Regulatory Board during its meeting Tuesday that he would like for the city to change the required time in the city from 480 seconds to 540 seconds and from 720 to 780 in the police jurisdiction to meet national standards.

Childers presented the ARB with an article that says excessive speed is one of the leading reasons for ambulance wrecks.

“I think it’s worth changing the time requirement to increase safety or someone is going to get hurt,” Childers said.

Childers said it has been documented that an ambulance must arrive in five minutes to save the life of someone going through heart failure, so there’s no reason to keep the time at eight minutes.

“How many lives do you want to endanger when you continue to insist on doing more than the rest of the nation is doing?” Childers said.

He also pointed out that many people are using the emergency room as an urgent care facility, so his ambulances are having to wait longer at hospitals for non-emergency calls.

Childers said he would like to work with the ARB to campaign to council to agree to change the time requirements.

But, Ashley England, Decatur Fire & Rescue battalion chief and EMS coordinator, said he believes First Response Ambulance Service can do a better job of spreading out its ambulances through the city as they wait for the next call.

England said the fire department meets the same response time requirements by spreading its eight stations out around the city. He said the department’s February response time in the city of 93.9% shows how vehicle location impacts those times.

“Our response time was 3% lower than in January because we had firefighters doing a lot of training at the Training Center (in Flint),” England said. “Some stations would have to go into another district to cover for a station or they would have to cross districts to get to a fire in their own district.”

Childers said he is now letting Morgan County 911 stage his vehicles around the city for quicker response, but he still has a big issue with his vehicles having to wait at the hospitals for non-emergency calls.

Division Chief Tracy Thornton, who serves as ARB chairman, suggested the city bring in a consultant to study the issue of response times and safety.

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©2020 The Decatur Daily (Decatur, Ala.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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