Idyllwild Fire Chief Patrick Reitz and the fire commission are concerned, actually upset, over Riverside County’s inability, perhaps unwillingness, to employ the “closest-available unit” policy.

The intent of this policy is to send the closest-available medical unit whenever a medical incident occurs that requires first responders. Reitz has stressed that the American Medical Response unit in Pine Cove is the closest for Pine Cove residents. If it is already responding to a call, Idyllwild Fire may be summoned.

The Idyllwild Fire Department has served the district since before 1981 when the state enacted medical-emergency-service laws. Consequently, the fire department has an exclusive right to serve this district. But its exclusivity does not apply to the rest of the Hill.

AMR bid and won the contract to serve Riverside County. Pine Cove is outside the IFD exclusive zone, which is why the county has AMR providing ambulance service to that area.

However, areas to the east and south, such as Mountain Center and Garner Valley, are outside the IFD exclusive area, and are considered non-exclusive. Consequently, IFD may be the closest-available unit when a medical emergency occurs, and the chief and commission argue they should be dispatched to those calls.

If time is critical in an emergency, then the closest unit could be vital for the patient’s or victim’s survival. And the unwillingness or failure to employ this policy is an issue the commission will take up with the Board of Supervisors.

Reitz told the commission that twice last week, a traffic collision on Highway 74 resulted in injuries that required medical response. Both times, IFD was the closest unit, drove to the scene and was told to “stand down, this isn’t your jurisdiction,” Reitz said.

“This has got to stop, it makes no common sense,” he lamented to the commission.

The commission agreed with Reitz and directed Commission President Rhonda Andrewson to send the supervisors a letter objecting to these actions.

“We’re not replacing AMR in Pine Cove,” said Commissioner Jerry Buchanan. “We’re often the closer unit, but we can’t help if dispatch doesn’t tell us. The patient could be a good citizen of Idyllwild, or family or friends.

“If they don’t look at human life, it’s a problem and I’m appalled,” he added.

Then Commissioner Jeannine Charles-Stigall summed up the issue to the commission, “This not about money, but about people’s lives.”