The Decatur City Council will hold a hearing Monday on First Response Ambulance Service’s appeal of a $10,000 fine for failure to meet response time requirements in the fourth quarter of 2019.
The Ambulance Regulatory Board voted unanimously Feb. 25 to impose the fine and 10 points as allowed under the emergency services ordinance that passed last year. Accumulation of 26 points over two years can result in revocation of the certificate to operate.
The hearing has been delayed several times due to the coronavirus pandemic and at the request of First Response, but is scheduled to take place at the end of Monday’s 6 p.m. meeting.
Assistant City Attorney Chip Alexander laid out the format for the hearing earlier this week. EMS Coordinator Ashley England or Alexander will start the hearing with a presentation on the alleged violations and the ARB action.
“First Response will then get a chance say why the fine is inappropriate,” Alexander said. “And then there will be time for a city rebuttal.”
Alexander said the appeal is only about the $10,000 fine, and the points are not open for debate.
However, First Response General Manager David Childers suggested the council would have to consider removing the points “if we have evidence we made the time and the numbers.”
The ordinance that went into effect Sept. 29, like the one before it, requires the ambulance service to respond within 12 minutes on 90% of its calls to the police jurisdiction, a 1½-mile area outside of the city limits. Unlike the old ordinance, the new one has significant penalties for noncompliance.
First Response, the city’s only ambulance provider, had an 84.1% response rate in the police jurisdiction for the fourth quarter of 2019.
Alexander said First Response officials and their attorney will have as much time as the council feels is necessary to present their case.
Council President Paige Bibbee said she hopes First Response will limit its arguments to the alleged response time violations that are the reason for the penalties.
Bibbee said she will have an open mind toward possibly reversing the penalties “and starting over."
“If First Response and their attorney can get right to the point and show the times that led to the penalties aren't right and (Morgan County) 911 agrees there was a problem, I may be obligated to a reversal,” Bibbee said.
First Response had trouble for years meeting the response time requirements, and the previous ordinance had no penalty short of pulling the city’s only ambulance service’s certificate to operate in Decatur.
This led to the new ordinance with penalties in the form of fines and points. Points can be awarded for vehicle issues and failure to meet response time requirements.
Childers and First Response COO Jason Tindal have argued for years that the city’s response time requirements are too stringent in comparison to national response time standards.
However, Bibbee said she is not willing to change her stance on the response time requirements even if First Response tries to bring up this debate again.
After years of rarely making its required times, First Response did make its times in April and May. The company now sets up ambulances in different parts of the city so they can reach the scene faster, Tindal said at the June ARB meeting.