HUNTINGTON BEACH : City Launching New Ambulance Service


With three new custom-made ambulances and 18 drivers, the city is launching its own ambulance service today, replacing a private ambulance company that has provided service since the 1960s.

Fire Chief Michael Dolder said the new ambulances will be assigned to the Gothard, Murdy and Lake fire stations to cut down on response times to emergencies.

“This is a moment in history; the city has never been a provider,” Dolder said Friday at graduation exercises for the drivers. “By integrating ambulances with the Fire Department, we will absolutely provide a better level of service to the citizens of Huntington Beach.”


The city also expects to make a profit of about $180,000 and use the money to stave off cutbacks that had threatened the department.

Dolder said the city also will be establishing a first, by hiring the ambulance drivers. In a $475,000 a year contract with the city, Employment Systems Inc. of San Diego employs and pays the drivers, while the city directs and manages them.

They will work an average of 56 hours a week and will be paid $5 an hour for the first 40 hours and then get overtime. All have expressed a desire to be firefighters, Dolder said, and they will receive professional training for firefighting careers and so that the ambulance driving won’t be considered “a dead-end job.”

Seal’s Ambulance Service, which has provided ambulance service in Huntington Beach, and the Ambulance Assn. of Orange County previously opposed the city’s takeover, claiming that Dolder underestimated costs and liability involved.

Councilman David Sullivan also was a critic of the plan. He claimed at the time of the vote in August that potential liability of injured workers and the possibility of escalating salaries “could blow the program out of the water.”

Sullivan said he fears that drivers may tire of working for $5 an hour and believes that salaries still may become an issue.


The new Ford ambulances have a price tag of $48,000 and have about another $20,000 in communications and medical equipment.

Each is equipped with advanced life support equipment and can accommodate a paramedic to accompany the patient. In addition, each of the ambulance drivers has completed emergency medical technician training.

One of the drivers who graduated Friday from an 80-hour training academy, Eric McVey, said the ambulance driving job and the career training “is a great opportunity.” McVey, 24, a resident of Menifee in Riverside County, said he is a reserve firefighter in the Fountain Valley Fire Department and hopes to go into a career of firefighting.

He has been a driver with Seal’s Ambulance Service.

The program will be paid by the city’s FireMed insurance program, in which residents pay $3 a month for paramedic and ambulance service for household members.

Residents who do not sign up for FireMed will pay the full cost for paramedic and ambulance service, a fee that can reach about $400, officials said.

The FireMed program generates about $730,000 a year. The city collects another $1.3 million in the form of reimbursement from residents’ insurance companies.


First-year ambulance costs--including costs of the vehicles, communications equipment and modifications of fire stations--is estimated at $468,000 a year.

About 5,000 ambulance calls were recorded in the city last year.