A decision on which service requirements to include in a request for proposals to provide exclusive ambulance service to Santa Barbara County was delayed last week by the Board of Supervisors because a contract extension had not been worked out with the current service provider.

Supervisors on May 10 did not discuss pleas to simply assign exclusive ambulance service to the County Fire Department without going through the RFP process.

Fire chiefs from the county, Santa Maria, Lompoc, Carpinteria-Summerland, Montecito and Santa Barbara fire departments asked the board to make that assignment that day.

“I’ve been in [emergency medical services] for 40 years, and I believe we can do better,” County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig said.

Their request was supported by Santa Maria City Councilman Carlos Escobedo and representatives of the county, Lompoc and state firefighter unions.

“We stand before you united, as we have been over the last five years, asking for your support in helping us improve the services we deliver to our communities,” said Bryan Fernandez, president of the Santa Barbara County FireFighters Local 2046.

Without commenting on the requests, the board unanimously agreed to delay a decision on the RFP until a special meeting at noon Tuesday, May 31, although some supervisors worried that could push the launch of a new service past the end of an extended contract for American Medical Response Inc., the current provider.

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Andrew Schouten, an attorney with the California Fire Chiefs Association, tells the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors it's legal to assign the exclusive ambulance service contract to the County Fire Department without going through a process of issuing a request for proposals in this screenshot from CSBTV's livestream of the May 10 meeting.

The same vote directed the staff to negotiate a 10-month extension of AMR’s contract, with an option to extend that another two months. The current contract will expire Dec. 31.

Staff has already been negotiating for a 12-month extension and said they believed a resolution was near.

Supervisors hope the extension will give the county time to develop an RFP, have the state approve it, issue it, have an independent committee review responses, select a provider and transition ambulance service to that provider — if it’s not AMR.

Initially, the Local Emergency Medical Services Agency said it would take seven months for a new ambulance service to gear up and provide service, but considering current supply chain problems, that was extended to 11 months.

However, staff said it is unknown how long it might take the California Emergency Medical Services Authority to review and approve any changes the board might make to the recommended RFP, which the state agency already approved May 3.

If the RFP is changed, staff estimated it could be six months before a provider could be selected.

“We’ll be working fast and furious to send it up to the state,” Van Do-Reynoso, director of the Public Health Department, said of any board-revised RFP.

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Bryan Fernandez, president of Santa Barbara County FireFighters Local 2046, tells the Board of Supervisors the county's firefighters and fire departments are united in supporting County Fire Department being assigned an exclusive ambulance service contract in this screenshot from the CSBTV livestream of the May 10 meeting. 

Some supervisors didn’t like the recommended RFP and wanted to make changes.

“I’m really not comfortable where we’re going with this RFP,” said 4th District Supervisor Bob Nelson, although he was concerned about the impact of a delay.

Other supervisors didn’t even want to review and potentially change it until a contract extension is negotiated and signed with AMR.

“From my perspective, this is a key piece of what we’re doing,” 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart said, adding he’d like the board to “hit the pause button.”

Board Chair and 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann agreed, saying AMR is asking for a five-year contract extension while the county is offering 12 months, which she said is a big difference.

“I do not appreciate … the level of leveraging and brinkmanship on AMR’s part,” 1st District Supervisor Das Williams said, claiming AMR officials had said they wanted a four- to five-year extension or they would drop the county’s ambulance service.

Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said he didn’t fault AMR for doing what any company does and it is charged to do — “defend their turf and do what’s in their best interest as well.”

“My goal is to just get this done right,” he said, noting the county had been operating on a 30-year contract with AMR and spent three years developing the recommended RFP. “I don’t think we have to rush into this.”