The ambulance contract between Riverside County and the Idyllwild Fire Protection District will be extended, according to Jeff Stone, 3rd District Supervisor.
“Pine Cove bought a 12-minute response time from Idyllwild. The county service is 29-59 [not more than 29 minutes and 59 seconds]. That’s extremely unacceptable,” Stone, a pharmacist, said explaining his reasoning.
Just two days earlier, the County Service Area 38 Advisory committee recommended that the contract be terminated and IFPD’s ambulance service be replaced with American Medical Response, the countywide ambulance server.
Stone credited Bruce Barton, director of the Riverside County Emergency Medical Services Agency, with the idea to subsidize the IFPD service until the county knows the results of the larger countywide ambulance service contract offering in two or three years.
The county will provide $47,000, in addition to the current CSA 38 payment of about $95,000 and $3,000 from the county for coverage of the Zone 3 corridor, to extend the contract.
In its negotiations with the county, Idyllwild Fire said it was losing nearly $90,000 annually in providing service to Pine Cove and Zone 3. The district wanted the $90,000 or a minimum of $67,000 if the county offered a multi-year contract.
Further, Stone assured the Pine Cove community that ambulance service would be available after June 30.
“If it all falls apart, there’ll be a county ambulance here, but the current contract specifies a 365-day termination. Riverside County will supplement the contract with Idyllwild Fire,” Stone stated. “Nothing is stopping June 30.”
Stone said the county would recommend the multi-year contract, but it would coincide with the countywide contract with American Medical Service. The board of supervisors voted last week to extend this contract three years, but it must re-compete the contract within two years.
Despite continuing ambulance coverage at no apparent additional cost, members of the CSA 38 Committee were disappointed.
“We were headed down one road. We were doing what was best for the people of Pine Cove and we felt and, I believe, the committee felt the support of a lot of people in Pine Cove for our recommendation,” said Committee Chair Jerry Holldber. “All of a sudden, it was switched. It doesn’t matter what we think. Nobody knows why or will explain what happened. It’s not over yet.”
Stone’s decision followed the committee’s unanimous (5-0) recommendation to terminate the existing ambulance service with IFPD and ask the county Emergency Service Agency to replace this service with AMR.
The committee met Wednesday, June 20, at Station 23 with about 30 people in attendance. After nearly an hour of discussion about the pros and cons, committee member Lou Padula made the motion and Thom Wallace seconded it. After answering some additional questions, the committee voted to make a change to ambulance service on the Hill.
At the meeting, interim Idyllwild Fire Chief Mike Sherman said without the money from Pine Cove, he would have to limit Idyllwild’s staffing to one ambulance. When the ambulance is on a call, he would request reserves, paid call firefighters and career staff who may not be on shift to return to the station to staff the second ambulance.
Fire Commissioner Dr. Charles “Chip” Schelly, who said he was not there in an official capacity, expressed regret that Pine Cove residents had not been invited to be more involved in the ambulance decisions.
He would have had Pine Cove representatives on the board and voting.
CSA 38 Chair Jerry Holldber wondered why the offer was made tonight rather than several months ago.
Most attendees supported the committee’s action, but several were concerned about the adequacy of response time and the lack of a specific plan.
“It seems to me with this option, we have no idea how it’ll work,” said Jim Quenzla, Pine Cove resident. “What if we don’t like their plan? Then what would we do?”