Legislation Proposed for City Ambulances

Mayor Jim Friedman and Fire Chief Dennis Downs joined a coalition of California cities, fire chiefs and state lawmakers Tuesday to announce new legislation that would allow cities to run their own ambulance services.

Written by Assemblywoman Deborah Ortiz, D--Sacramento, Assembly Bill 2586 would allow a city or fire district to set up emergency medical service zones within city limits in order to reduce paramedic response times or increase the number of paramedics on an ambulance.

The legislation comes nine months after a split Ventura County Board of Supervisors, under the threat of lawsuits from private ambulance companies, returned paramedic services in the city of Ventura to a private company.

The decision followed passionate pleas from residents and city officials who said city firefighters were providing faster and cheaper emergency medical services.

The board was acting on the heels of a June 30 state Supreme Court ruling. The justices ruled that counties--not cities--decide who will provide pre-hospital emergency services.

The court said--and Ventura County emergency medical system officials agreed--that counties must be able to control the way such services are provided in order to run an organized emergency medical response system.

But that was little consolation to the city, which after 13 months of running its own paramedic service through the city Fire Department had cut emergency response times by two minutes over the previous private provider and cut ambulance bills by 40%.

"In our particular case, we had a system that was working very well, and the 1997 Supreme Court ruling basically required us to park our ambulances," Friedman said Tuesday, following a news conference at the League of California Cities offices in Sacramento. "Now they're just sitting collecting dust, serving no one."

Chief Downs said, however, that the legislation will have a difficult time passing, given the large amount of money private ambulance providers are likely to contribute toward its defeat.

"This is going to be a tough fight," Downs said.

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