Effective June 30, the Idyllwild Fire Protection Distict plans to terminate its contract for ambulance service to Pine Cove and Zone III.The district announced that intention in a letter to Bruce Barton, director of the county’s Emergency Medical Services Agency. Regardless of the resolution of IFPD’s role, Barton said, “We will do whatever we have to do to fulfill the mandate for ambulance service to people of the mountain plateau. Residents and visitors will have ambulance service.”
IFPD and the county Emergency Medical Services Agency were in the midst of negotiating a new contract. The current contract expires June 30. The contract for ambulance service is between the county and IFPD, but County Service Area 38 (Pine Cove) provides the money for the contract.
Interim Idyllwild Fire Chief Michael Sherman said the action was simply a business decision. The cost of providing the emergency service to Pine Cove is more than the current contract payment (about $95,000 in 2011).
“It’s costing us money that we need to serve the public in Idyllwild,” he emphasized.
He adamantly stressed the department’s first priority was service to its constituents. Since most of the dissatisfaction emanated from Pine Cove, he and IFPD Commission President Jeannine Charles-Stigall both thought it was better for the district to eliminate the budget cost and complaints.
“They’re not happy with our staffing,” he said. “They’re not happy with the service and expressed disappointment at the CSA 38 meetings.”
“Pine Cove residents have really been getting a bargain with the current [IFPD] contact. And they’re very professional in providing the service,” said Jeff Stone, 3rd District Supervisor. “The city of Menifee is beginning to charge a $345 surcharge for every transport, in addition to actual transportation costs.”
In response to proposals for renewing the contract, IFPD’s letter, which its legal counsel, Theodore K. Stream, of Gresham Savage Nolan and Tilden in Riverside, signed and sent, said, “The District respectfully rejects this Amendment request under the presented requirements. In addition, this letter will constitute formal notice that the District does not agree with the presented requirements and therefore, elects not to renew this … the original Agreement.
“Without a new successor Agreement approved by the District’s Board of Director’s prior to June 30, 2012, the District will not be providing any ambulances services to Zones II and III after that date,” the attorney said in the letter.
County officials from several agencies have already begun contingency planning, according to Barton. “We’ll ensure ambulance service in the area. If not IFPD, then someone.”
At this point, no negotiating sessions are scheduled. These letters effectively ended those discussions.
“I was completely surprised,” Barton said. “We were in the middle of negotiations.” He said that Charles-Stigall had canceled the last scheduled meeting, for March 14 because of Sherman’s illness. “The next we hear are these letters,” he said with frustration.
Barton also said he wasn’t sure when the service would officially be discontinued. He still hopes negotiations can be resuscitated. Further, the current contract requires a 365-day notice of termination, not three months.
If the IFPD service does get canceled, Barton said American Medical Response, the private company with which the county has a large multi-million dollar contract, is willing to service the Pine Cove and Zone III areas. An operational contingency plan is being discussed among county agencies.
The Riverside County Board of Supervisors is considering whether to put the county’s ambulance service contract, which is up for renewal, out to bid this spring.
Canceling the contract will cost IFPD more than the contract costs of about $100,000. IFPD makes nearly 100 calls to Pine Cove and Zone III annually. About 50 percent result in transporting someone to a hospital (actually the percentage is higher for Pine Cove). As a result, IFPD will lose closer to $150,000 of annual revenue if the contract is terminated.
Marshall Smith contributed to this article.