Martha Pearson speaks to the public and emergency medical officials about her concerns over ambulance responses in the Mountain Center neighborhood.
Photo by JP Crumrine

The distance between the Idyllwild Fire Station and the American Medical Response unit near Foster Lake is no longer considered “zero,” with respect to Riverside County dispatching an ambulance to a medical emergency on the Hill.

The county changed the policy that said, “For purposes of closest ambulance the AMR Pine Cove Unit and IFPD ambulances are considered equal distance,” and made it effective as of June 28.

This was the result of a meeting organized by Mountain Center resident and restaurateur Martha Pearson.

Concerned about an incident involving her uncle several months ago, Pearson has been trying to clarify the different treatment for dispatch of AMR and IFPD. Achieving little success, she organized a community meeting at the Mountain Center Café, her restaurant, Monday evening, June 25.

About 25 people attended, and half were fire or emergency medical officials. Pearson described the frustration created when her uncle had a traffic crash. IFPD responded before Cal Fire or AMR but was told to wait because the call was outside its district.

“It takes so long to get a call in rural areas. It’s nerve wracking,” Pearson said, relating her own 45 years as an Idyllwild and Hill resident. “This [her uncle’s incident] was a really bad experience with ambulance responses living in Mountain Center. I’m just trying to get people motivated.”

She questioned why the Pine Cove neighborhood was guaranteed 12-minute emergency response time, while Mountain Center, which is nearly the same distance, is not.

Bruce Barton, director of the county’s Emergency Management Department, explained that former Supervisor Jeff Stone agreed with including Pine Cove under the provisions of the county’s ambulance contract, thus AMR would serve the community, but he also decided to keep the 12-minute response standard.

The focus of the initial discussion was AMR’s location and how it can back-up ambulances in Anza or Pine Cove with other crews. But Pearson said, “All that matters is who gets to calls faster.”

Idyllwild Fire Assistant Chief Mark LaMont, who was present as a civilian, added, “You’re arguing about the wrong thing. My folks [Idyllwild Fire crews] are here 10 to 15 minutes before AMR ambulance comes.”

Shortly after Idyllwild Fire Commissioner Ralph Hoetger asked, “How do we move forward?” Barton replied, “The asterisk [qualification] can go away tomorrow.” And he kept his word changing the policy effective June 28.

However, he then stressed that within non-exclusive operating areas, such as Mountain Center or Garner Valley, any permitted provider can serve. However, they would still have to meet state and county standards and provisions. EMD confirms the providers’ compliance through the Advanced Life Support contracts, which is why he urged IFPD to sign one.

“We need to get an ALS agreement signed. You’ve had 18 to 24 months. What do we need to do?” he asked. “It’s a performance-based agreement.”

Without this agreement, his department cannot approve IFPD serving a wider area, he emphasized. The fire district, however, feels that the county does not have maps that correctly depict IFPD’s jurisdictional boundaries. Although EMD uses the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission maps, this group has responsibility for managing public-agency boundaries.

The ALS contract between EMD and an ambulance provider sets the standards, conditions and terms of operations. These are the same throughout the county, and include clinical standards, data reporting and other information to review patient care, according to Barton.

“Being compliant with the law and good patient care are not mutually exclusive,” Barton stated.

Idyllwild Fire Chief Patrick Reitz acknowledged that the agreement was awaiting IFPD’s concurrence. But he said it has taken months to get drafts back and forth.

While he also acknowledged that EMD had made many compromises, the map issue was not the only remaining difference. “There are a few other issues. If I take it back to the commission, I don’t think they’ll support it.” But he did offer to put it on the commission’s agenda for July.

However, at the commission’s June meeting, a day after the Mountain Center session, Commission President Rhonda Andrewson said she had several problems with the agreement and wanted to meet with Barton before the contract returned to the agenda.

After the meeting, in response to a Monday question from the Town Crier, Barton said he “… would like to complete that ALS agreement and get it back to the Board of Supervisors before the end of August. The 2018 county EMS plan update is due to the state EMS Authority by Aug. 31, 2018, and we would like to report it has been completed.”

Both Pearson and Barton were pleased with the meeting and its results. When told that the “Closest ALS Ambulance” policy had been modified, Pearson responded, “He kept his word; that’s good.”

Barton reflected on the evening and wrote, “Overall, I thought it was positive. Clearly there were issues discussed that were important to the community. … It is important that we listen to the community. We are always looking for ways to improve the EMS system. I felt that we were able to provide useful information that was understood, including the requirements that EMS providers need to meet to assure good patient care and patient safety.”