‘The [ambulance] service provider didn’t want to honor the additional year at the current price,” Bill Brown, the County Service Area operations manager for Riverside County’s Economic Development Agency, told the CSA 38 Advisory Committee last week. He was referring to the negotiations between the County and the Idyllwild Fire Protection District, or the provider.
On June 20, the committee recommended to 3rd District Supervisor Jeff Stone that the county terminate the contract with IFPD for ambulance service to Pine Cove. Stone listened, but his priority was response time for emergency calls. Consequently, he advised the County’s Emergency Medical Services Agency to renegotiate the contract with IFPD.
“The supervisor’s first question to us was ‘What is the response time?’ [There was] only one acceptable answer to him — the fastest,” Brown said. The contract between IFPD and the county sets 12 minutes as the minimum time from call to arrival at the incident. “AMR could not provide a 12 or 15 minute response,” Brown added.
If American Medical Response, the county’s current ambulance service, replaced IFPD, their contract requires a less than 30-minute response. While the ambulance might have been lodged at Pine Cove Fire Station 23, during the day it could have been stationed elsewhere, such as Lake Hemet, to help AMR respond to any call on the Hill.
Beginning this year, the CSA 38 cost for accelerate response will increase from $94,905 to $119,137, and 4 percent more each of the two following years. Despite the Committee’s opposition to the contract extension, the additional funding will come from the CSA 38 reserves, according to Brown.
Both CSA 38 Chair Jerry Holldber and Vice Chair Marge Muir said they were told CSA 38 would not be the source of the additional funds. Nevertheless, Brown was adamant that the CSA 38 funds would be tapped.
Stone stressed that response time was his most important criteria. He also understands the frustration and discontent in Pine Cove about the contract cost.
“I empathize with Pine Cove,” Stone said. “Why do they have a fee and Idyllwild didn’t vote for one. My long-term goal is to fix this.”
As the county develops a new emergency services master plan, including drafting a new contract for rebidding within the next two years, he expects Pine Cove’s situation to change. The renewed contract is only for three years, through June 30, 2015.
“Pine Cove could be brought into the county fold,” Brown speculated. “The special tax would no longer be needed if negotiations with a new provider treat Pine Cove like the rest of Riverside County. You’re in a three-year glide path with IFPD.”
While Stone recognizes that people choose to live in isolated (non-urban) areas of the county, the county’s EMS plan can provide equable service to these residents.
“It’s possible a new contract would provide a level of service in form of raising transport fees so the provider can justify making money in the urban areas, but provide good service in rural,” said Stone. “My goal is the best care and no assessment with the new EMS provider — appropriate response without the burden of a tax.”
While the room was full of Pine Cove residents who supported the committee’s recommendation and were disappointed with the unexpected decision, the meeting ended with promises of trying to find a path to greater cooperation and partnership between the CSA and IFPD.
The change was in response to IFPD Commissioner Dr. Charles “Chip” Schelly’s attendance at the meeting and his effort to find a way to enhance future relations between the two local organizations.
Advisory committee members had questions about the cost of service to Pine Cove compared to Idyllwild calls and why Pine Cove residents would have to pay more for service since they already pay the contract costs.
“Basically we’re a consumer paying for service, paying a premium,” said Pine Cove resident Dave Miller, when asking Brown if his agency couldn’t mandate IFPD to release this type of information.
Schelly, who requested time on the committee’s agenda, began by saying, “we need to build on this relationship. I’m asking the community too. Meetings are not just for [members of the] boards, they’re really for the community. And I hope they can be involved.”
During the discussion of possibly holding a joint meeting, Holldber said he hoped the two organizations could “discuss the bigger picture.” He was referring to looking at emergency medical service to the entire Hill area. How would that be structured to benefit all the residents and visitors?
“Most of us consider themselves part of Idyllwild,” Thom Wallace, advisory committee member, told Schelly. “But when we try to take part, we’re stonewalled. There’s no invitation to be part of the decision making.”
Holldber agreed to invite the new Idyllwild Fire Chief to the CSA 38 September meeting. CSA 38 will not have an August meeting, he told Schelly.