No first call for Bishop Fire
Longer response times could be on horizon
Bishop City Council voted on Monday night to approve a draft letter informing Symons Ambulance that the Bishop Volunteer Fire Department will no longer provide a “second out” ambulance for emergency calls.
Symons Ambulance operates the emergency response ambulance service for the City of Bishop, but retired its second back-up ambulance in March 2010 because of a cut to Medicare funding that reduced the rates Medicare pays for rural ambulance service by about 28%. This 28% translated into roughly a $100,000 loss per year for Symons, which led to the reduced services.
For the past year and a half the Volunteer Fire Department has filled the gap and assisted with second out service, Interim City Administrator Keith Caldwell explained at Monday’s meeting. However, “it became a situation where there were more call outs than we expected, and in recent occurrences, this put the Fire Department on the scene first.”
Volunteer Fire Department Chief Ray Saguine reported that prior to March 2010, the Fire Department received a medical assist call only once a month, but when Symons cut its second out, the Fire Dept. began receiving four to five calls per month. When Symons was already on the scene of another call, this meant the Fire Dept. inadvertently became a first responder.
The Fire Department is neither licensed nor equipped to operate as first responders, Caldwell said. Fire Department staff cannot provide EMS nor transport patients, which put them in a tricky position when arriving first on the scene. “It wasn’t necessarily a liability issue, because we didn’t transport or treat,” Caldwell said, “but the perception is once we arrive, we can do what needs to be done. People are expecting us to give treatment at that point, and [arriving first] gave the wrong impression.”
The Bishop Rural Fire District Board voted on Nov. 3 to clarify the policy regarding the Fire Department’s emergency response in order to avoid this issue. The Board clarified that the Fire Department can assist Symons only if the company calls en route to, or already on the scene of an emergency.
“They’ll call us if they need the manpower or the muscle,” said Chief Saguine.
“This isn’t a new policy,” Caldwell said. “We’ve provided a letter to [Symons Ambulance CEO] Judd Symons stating that we’ve basically gone back to the original policy, and he’s fine with it.”
The policy also stated that the Fire Department will only respond as a primary provider of advanced or basic life support in extreme emergencies.
Caldwell added that Judd Symons hopes to be able to staff a second out ambulance again by January 2012. Until then, as Symons said last year, “the cuts may, in some cases, lead to longer response times.”