Tempers flared Tuesday when Decatur City Councilman Charles Kirby demanded that the city apologize for a complaint against First Response Ambulance Service.
“Our provider asked for a specific apology (over) a misrepresentation of facts,” Kirby said during the pre-meeting work session, although city and ambulance officials disputed the source of the complaint.
Council President Paige Bibbee tersely responded to Kirby: “You can get an apology from me and the city when we have apologies to our employees that names have been pulled through the mud on unfounded allegations of serious crimes that have never been founded. When I get an apology and they get an apology, you may get an apology from me.”
Bibbee’s statement received a round of applause from those at the work session, most of them city employees.
In the regular meeting, the City Council also voted 3-2 to create a communication specialist position that will pay up to $88,487 per year.
The council was unanimous in its approval of a new contract with Morgan County 911 that reduced the cost of calls for the city to $4.35 each. Morgan 911 officials initially wanted to raise call charges to $4.85 each.
Kirby and First Response officials, who were not at Tuesday's meeting, are unhappy with a complaint discussed at the new Ambulance Regulatory Board’s inaugural meeting in October.
The new EMS coordinator, Fire Department Battalion Chief Ashley England, reported to the ARB that the hospital had filed the initial complaint against First Response that focused on a 7 p.m. Sept. 24 incident.
England said the complaint accused First Response of taking more than two hours to pick up a patient on a non-emergency call.
First Response owner David Childers said at the October board meeting that the hospital caused the delay and his drivers twice went to and left the facility because the patient wasn’t ready.
Kirby said Childers has a certified letter from a family member “who has power of attorney that says they did not complain” about the ambulance service.
Fire Chief Tony Grande, who recently announced he will resign later this month, and Assistant City Attorney Chip Alexander said they have an email with the complaint and they forwarded it to the City Council.
Alexander said the complaint was given as an example of how an issue is investigated during the ARB meeting. He also pointed out that Decatur Fire & Rescue officials investigated the complaint but there has been no move to penalize First Response.
The ARB has met twice and has yet to take any action against First Response, even though the company does not yet have the $2 million performance bond. Company officials claim they’re unable to get such a bond.
Kirby said city officials continue to operate in secret and refuse “to be open and honest with the public. Everything is spin control.”
Bibbee said after the meeting she takes offense at the allegations Kirby made earlier this year. He has accused Fire Department officials of a conspiracy in which they’re trying to get First Response shut down so the department can take over emergency medical services.
In June, during discussions about the soon-to-be adopted ambulance service ordinance, Kirby accused Grande of having a department “that’s running rogue.” He also accused Grande of wanting to generate a revenue stream.
Bibbee said she believes a person should have evidence before making these types of allegations.
“If you’re accusing some of those crimes, I certainly don’t want them sitting where they’re sitting but nothing has come to us as proof. That to me is very disturbing that he would do that to his own family, his own employees, and then he would stand behind someone we’ve had issues with in the past.”
Bibbee said the city “has given First Response great latitude to make changes, but we haven’t seen any changes.” She said she now supports the ARB starting an enforcement process under the ordinance that authorizes fines as high as $20,000 and penalties that could include loss of its certificate to operate in the city.
The next ARB meeting is Tuesday at 2 p.m.