Service occupies fire station
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Some details of a lease agreement on a headquarters building still have to be worked out, but a new ambulance service is set to take over Wednesday as the primary emergency medical transport provider for Atmore and the immediate area.
Medstar Emergency Medical Services, having reached an agreement with Escambia County Healthcare Authority to provide around-the-clock ground coverage from two fully staffed ambulances, will replace current provider ASAP EMS.
Medstar will operate out of the Pensacola Avenue building where Atmore Fire Department Station 4 has been located for years. All fire department trucks and personnel will operate out of the station at city hall.
“We moved out of the building Friday and Saturday (August 27 and 28),” said AFD Chief Ron Peebles.
Although the original plan was for Medstar to replace ASAP at midnight Tuesday, an ECHCA spokesman said the new provider would officially take over at 7 a.m. Wednesday, September 1.
The city is in the final stages of an agreement with Lifeguard Ambulance Service LLC, Medstar’s parent company, for a long-term lease of the former fire station, but the agreement has yet to be consummated.
“There is an agreement in the works,” City Clerk Becca Smith said this week. “Our attorney is working with Medstar’s attorney to get everything worked out.”
City Attorney Larry Wettermark said Monday (August 30) that, “We’re still in negotiations, still waiting on a final draft.”
Mayor Jim Staff said he thought all the details of the lease had been worked out but discovered this week they had not been.
“I thought everything was ready with the lease, but it’s not; the city council still has to approve it,” said the mayor, adding that a special council meeting would not be called unless ASAP were to suddenly pull out of the city prior to Wednesday morning. The next scheduled city council meeting is Monday, September 13.
County healthcare officials feel “confident” that Medstar ambulances will begin rolling in and around Atmore at 7 a.m. Wednesday, although the authority appeared unaware Monday of the last-minute snag in the city’s lease agreement with the company.
“It is our understanding that all details regarding agreements between the City of Atmore and Medstar are complete,” the ECHCA spokesman said.
Numerous complaints from county residents and public safety officials over ASAP’s poor response times led to the decision to seek another emergency medical ground transport provider. Medstar already provides local medical evacuation helicopter service from its base at Atmore Community Hospital.
According to a recent ECHCA press release, county healthcare officials tried to work out the problems with ASAP, but eventually “chose to expand its existing relationship with Medstar to include the Atmore market.”
Another problem with ASAP was a lack of communication between local emergency dispatchers and ambulance crews. Dispatchers often had to contact ASAP’s Mississippi headquarters and relay information through company dispatchers there.
A plan to eliminate that problem is also in the final stages, said Police Chief Chuck Brooks.
“Right now, we are putting the finishing touches on the communications part, so we’ll be able to directly communicate with the ambulances,” said Brooks, who pointed out that Poarch Band of Creek Indians is playing a large part in that. “We’ve been having some issues with the tower equipment and repeater equipment, but that’s being worked on. All that is being provided by Poarch. They had some equipment to help us along, and they’ve had some issues out there.
“We’re still hoping it will be up and going by September 1. If we don’t have (the PCI-furnished towers), we have a backup system to communicate with the ambulances and get them dispatched.”