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Colorado Springs makes it official: It's ending ambulance agreement with El Paso County

By: Jesse Byrnes jesse.byrnes@gazette.com
July 3, 2013 Updated: July 3, 2013 at 7:25 pm
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The city of Colorado Springs has officially notified El Paso County that it will terminate its agreement for shared ambulance service next year.

The board of directors for the El Paso County Emergency Services Agency heard Wednesday that the office received the noticeJune 28 - meeting a requirement that the information be received at least six months in advance of termination. The contract will terminate at the end of the year, though a three-month extension means it won't take effect until April 2014.

Last week, Interim Fire Chief Tommy Smith, who sits on the ESA board, asked Colorado Springs City Council to terminate the agreement because he said it doesn't represent the city's best interests and is full of bureaucratic hurdles. The majority of emergency calls are within city limits, and the Colorado Springs Fire Department is the first to arrive about 75 percent of the time.

The city and county have had shared ambulance services since 1995. In 2011, the two entered into the agreement under the ESA, which handled the ambulance service contract with Greenwood Village-based American Medical Response.

In March, the city announced it would pull out and seek its own contract for ambulance services, though it has yet to announce one. City Council spent more than two hours behind closed doors last week discussing details ofa city contract.

El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark, who sits on the ESA board, criticized the council's handling of the contract, saying that "when it got to the public, there was nothing to say." She challenged council, the mayor and fire department to be more open about the process.

Clark suggested a new board be set up separate from the city to handle the county's contract. The county's request for proposals is in the works, and bids are expected to be open by mid-August.

A July 1 report from the Public Safety Research Group, a Phoenix organization helping ESA make a request for bids, showed universal satisfaction with the current ambulance provider among the 12 county fire districts that were interviewed - about half of the nearly two dozen in El Paso County.

Still, it offered several recommendations for the county's new bid, including reducing unnecessary EMS transports, better involvement with hospitals and other health organizations, reducing response times to rural areas, and reporting response times by individual districts for better tracking.

ESA board member Julie Kiley said that response times in the new setup are her biggest concern, since there are few details on a mutual aid agreement or central dispatch.

Smith said the city will have a mutual aid agreement with the county contractor, and the contractor must serve the region to the best of its ability, adding that a "lot of accountability will be built into system."

"We're not in a position where we want to bail out of anything or leave anyone hanging," said city council member and ESA board member Andy Pico, adding that any agency that wants to participate in the process can.

"As the events of the last week show, when there's an emergency we'll be there."

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