Volunteer departments want ‘due diligence’ on ambulance service

Published 11:09 am Thursday, June 11, 2020

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By JOYANNA LOVE/ Managing Editor

The Chilton County Volunteer Firefighters Association hopes to see “due diligence” done before a memorandum of understanding with Regional Paramedical Service is signed by the Chilton County 911 Board.

Association President Butch Billingsley represents the association on the 911 board and recently voted against the MOU.

“I am not opposed to the MOU,” Billingsley said. “I am not opposed to an MOU with RPS. I feel like, and I have other members of the fire departments (that feel this way) because they have called and told me, that this move was going too fast. We needed to do some due diligence.”

A work session had been held with the volunteer fire departments, RPS and the 911 board to answer questions.

“There were some answers given at the … work session that a lot of people were uncomfortable with,” Billingsley said.

The draft MOU reviewed by the 911 Board simply stated that RPS would be the primary ambulance service for all fire departments in Chilton County, except for Jemison because it has its own ambulance. It did not give specifics on the number of ambulances or anticipated response times.

Billingsley said additional public work sessions are needed to “discuss and work out our due diligence on this.”

As a part of this due diligence, Billingsley would like to see a “heat map” created for Chilton County. This study would establish what areas typically need ambulance transport at what time. This information could be used to get a better idea of how many ambulances would be needed to provide timely service to residents.

“RPS might be the best one for us, but for the people of this county I want to make sure that we are doing this right,” Billingsley said.

An MOU with the 911 Board and an ambulance provider would be a new move for the Board, previously individual departments picked a preference from whichever companies were in the county.

Five of 12 volunteer fire stations have used RPS as a primary ambulance service, and another established an agreement with them after its primary provider CARE Ambulance announced it would end service in Chilton County effective June 30.

RPS has stated its intention to continue to provide service in the county as it has for 20 years. However, an MOU would create a legal requirement to serve all areas of the county. RPS serves departments it has not had an agreement with when needed.

An MOU was proposed as a temporary measure to legally secure countywide coverage, while the 911 Board moves forward with developing specifications to bid out the service.

“I don’t think RPS will leave us stranded in the county with no ambulance service,” Billingsley said. “… Their business is fixing to double from what they have now. At least double or more because they are going to be the sole provider. Most ambulance providers want to be the sole provider because the way health (and insurance payments) is now it is hard for them to make a living. They are trying to make a profit. They are not a nonprofit.”

He said RPS would have a better idea of the needs of the county than other providers that might bid on the service.

All of the volunteer fire stations in Chilton County are a part of the Chilton County Volunteer Firefighters Association. Billingsley said all of the volunteer stations also provide rescue services and have members trained as EMTs or paramedics.

“They’re not paid,” Billingsley said. “They probably have to pay for these courses. … They care about the county. We are blessed to have as many volunteers as we have.”

Jemison is the only fire department in the county that has an ambulance and does transport.

Volunteer departments receive funding from a designated tax on rural property, donations and fundraisers. Billingsley said the state established this tax to give firefighters a steady revenue stream, and it has allowed departments to borrow money when needed for projects or equipment.