CLAREMONT — City officials expressed anger and frustration, but not surprise, this week when the county Board of Supervisors rejected a proposal that would have ended a longstanding feud over paramedic service.
The board voted Tuesday against a recommendation by the county Emergency Medical Services Commission to allow Claremont to have a private firm provide its paramedic service. The privatization of paramedic service, which would have set a precedent for the 47 communities that belong to the county Fire Protection District, was opposed by the Fire Department and the county's chief administrative officer.
Fire Chief Michael Freeman told supervisors that the idea of mixing private paramedic service with county fire protection flies in the face of the district's policies and would make the handling of emergencies chaotic.
"It would violate the unity of command," Freeman said. "We would have fire personnel in charge of fire protection and we would have a private paramedic provider in charge of emergency medical treatment. . . . We would rather see the city withdraw completely from the district than have this fragmentation of protection."
'It Works Elsewhere'
Claremont City Manager Glenn Southard said cities with their own fire departments have successfully integrated private paramedic firms into their emergency response systems.
"It works elsewhere," Southard said. County fire officials "just don't want to give up the control. It's not an efficiency question. In fact, I would argue that the private sector may be more efficient. . . . It's just power politics. It's a shame they're playing with our citizens' lives."
Southard said Tuesday's decision by the Board of Supervisors may lead Claremont to withdraw from the fire protection district, of which it has been a member since 1975.
"We're going to look at whether we want to stay in the fire district," he said. "They don't seem interested in being our fire department."
Feuding Since 1987
The city has been at odds with the Fire Department since October, 1987, because Claremont is the only city in the eastern San Gabriel Valley without a paramedic unit. When paramedics are needed in Claremont, they must be summoned from San Dimas, Glendora or Azusa. As a result, response times in Claremont average more than 10 minutes, and have exceeded 20 minutes.
County officials have offered to locate a paramedic squad in Claremont, but only if the city would pay for the increased service by giving the county an estimated $79,000 in property tax revenue from a downtown redevelopment project area.
The county currently receives $118,000 a year from other redevelopment areas in Claremont, said Assistant City Manager Bridget Distelrath. City leaders, arguing that Claremont is receiving substandard service, initially balked at the increase.
After negotiations with the county appeared to reach a stalemate earlier this year, Claremont officials contracted with Medic-1, a San Dimas-based ambulance company, to provide paramedic service. However, the Fire Department refused to give its approval, as required under state law before the firm could begin service.
The city took its case to the Emergency Medical Services Commission, which voted in March to recommend that the Board of Supervisors permit Medic-1 to operate alongside county firefighters in the city for a one-year trial period.
Southard said this arrangement would provide vitally needed paramedic service for residents while the city and county work out their differences. The city also offered to provide the county with the additional tax revenue for up to two years or until a permanent solution could be found.
But Schabarum said Tuesday that the commission's recommendation "is not timely and would delay resolution of this matter."
"The city, while willing to enter into an interim agreement and willing to pay the increment for a couple of years, does not provide the fire district with the . . . comfort that (a permanent) agreement will (be reached) two years from now," he said.
Supervisor Deane Dana concurred, advising the city to take the fire district up on its offer. "It just seems to me that for $79,000, the city of Claremont should just sign up for this and have the fire protection district provide the service on a long-term basis," he said.
But Claremont officials, noting that the tax increment revenue lost by the city would run into millions of dollars over the 28-year life of the redevelopment project, say they will only reach a long-term agreement under certain conditions.
The city is demanding that paramedic response times be monitored annually and that the county place a second emergency medical team in Claremont if the average response time exceeds five minutes. Claremont officials also want an escape clause from the agreement, which could cover a period as long as 50 years.