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Chief Calls for Change in Ambulance Service

April 02, 1987|JULIO MORAN | Times Staff Writer

Hawthorne paramedics would take over emergency transportation services now provided by private ambulance companies under a proposal by Fire Chief Ralph Harden to raise part of the $300,000 needed for a second city paramedic unit.

In most Southern California cities, including Hawthorne, paramedics respond to emergencies but private ambulances transport victims to a hospital if additional care is necessary. The minimum fee charged by ambulance companies in Los Angeles County is $105, according to a spokeswoman for the County Board of Supervisors, which establishes the rates.

Under Harden's proposal, city paramedics--who are also firefighters--would transport victims and collect the fee. Harden said final estimates have not been completed, but he said that up to $200,000 a year could be raised.

The proposal to take over ambulance services is one of three options that Harden will present to the City Council on April 13. The other two involve contracting with a private ambulance company to serve as the second paramedic unit, or hiring non-firefighters at lower wages to serve as paramedics.

Most Viable Proposal

In an interview, Hardin said the plan to provide ambulance service is the most viable proposal.

"We are seriously looking" at the ambulance proposal to raise some of the money for an additional paramedic unit, Hardin said.

For several years, the Fire Department has been seeking ways to add a second unit that fire officials say is critically needed.

Last year, the single paramedic unit responded to 3,700 emergency calls, Hardin said. By comparison, four paramedic units in Torrance responded to about 6,000 calls, according to Torrance paramedic coordinator Raleigh Harris, or about 1,500 calls per unit.

Hardin said each of his three proposals is in use in other cities in Southern California. Los Angeles is the only city in the county that employs non-firefighters as paramedics, but problems there between firefighters and paramedics over wages and seniority makes this option the least likely in Hawthorne, Hardin said.

Hardin said he is still waiting to hear from private ambulance companies on the cost of contracting out a second paramedic unit. A representative of McCormick Ambulance Service, the primary company now providing medical transportation in Hawthorne and other cities, says the company is preparing a bid. He declined to comment on the proposed takeover of ambulance service by paramedics.

Private Company

In Glendale, Fire Chief John Montenero said his city has contracted with a private company to provide paramedic and ambulance service for the past 12 years. Montenero said the city had been paying about $4,000 a month for the service, but last year when new bids for the service were received, the company was willing to continue the paramedic service without any subsidy from the city.

Allan Stone, president of Professional Ambulance Service of Glendale, said his company is able to provide free paramedic service in Glendale because of an increasing number of emergency transportation calls. In addition, Medicare is paying more for transportation, he said.

Stone, whose company grossed $6 million last year serving several cities throughout the county, said the majority of his business is still non-emergency transportation calls. He said only about 20% of his business is emergency service.

Stone said he didn't think a private ambulance company could provide free service in Hawthorne because there are not enough emergency calls. He said there were about 7,500 emergency calls in Glendale last year, an amount that makes it possible for his company to provide the service without subsidy.

In Inglewood, paramedics have been providing emergency ambulance service for nearly 18 years.

Inglewood Fire Chief Kenneth Mays said non-residents are charged $110 and residents $90 for emergency transportation to hospitals. He said the city transported victims in one-third of its 5,000 emergency cases, raising about $165,000.

The Downey Fire Department offers residents an annual $12 subscription for city-provided emergency ambulance service.

Downey Fire Chief Ron Irwin said that with the subscription fee from 1,200 households and a flat $155 user fee for non-residents and residents choosing not to buy the subscription, the city raised about $300,000 last year.

Irwin said paramedics initially feared that transporting victims to hospitals would delay their response to other emergencies, but he said it takes less time because they didn't have to wait for an ambulance.

Both Inglewood and Downey call private ambulances to transport non-emergency cases to keep paramedics free.

Paul Zavala, a board member of the Hawthorne Firemen's Assn., the firefighters' bargaining agent, said the union has not taken an official position on any of Hardin's proposals.

He said the union would prefer that the City Council raise the money by one of four methods recommended by the firefighters association earlier this year:

- A 1% increase in the utility users tax.

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