By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
As the city’s new ground ambulance service ends its first week of handling the emergency medical needs for residents of Atmore and the immediate area, the city council is preparing to vote on a lease agreement that will allow the company to operate out of a former city fire station.
The issue is the major item on the business agenda for the 4 p.m. council meeting scheduled for next Monday, September 13.
City Attorney Larry Wettermark said last week a final draft of the agreement between the City of Atmore and Lifeguard Ambulance LLC, parent company of Medstar Emergency Medical Services, had not been completed, that the two sides were still in negotiations.
Unconfirmed reports are that the lease requires Lifeguard-Medstar to operate for at least the next five years — at a monthly rate of “about $3,000” — out of the Pensacola Avenue building that until recently housed Atmore Fire Department Station 4. The fire department is now operating exclusively out of its main station at Atmore City Hall.
Officials of Lifeguard Ambulance recently reached an agreement with Escambia County Healthcare Authority to replace ASAP EMS and provide around-the-clock ground coverage from two fully staffed ambulances. Details of that agreement have not been made public.
City officials provided statistics that show only 13 percent of AFD calls over the past five years have been in response to fires. The remainder have been for rescue and medical incidents, severe weather and natural disaster responses, hazardous materials spills and related, false alarms and other incidents.
“To this extent, the new arrangement will greatly increase public safety and public health and will not have a substantial effect on fire response,” reads a press release issued September 3 by city officials.
Fire Chief Ron Peebles agreed.
“I’ve had calls from at least two doctors who told me this is the best thing this town has ever done for its citizens,” Peebles said. “We are so much better off as a city with this ambulance service.”
The city fire department’s automatic response to medical calls was discontinued in November 2017 because of the cost of operating fire trucks but has now been reinstated, at least temporarily.
“(Medstar officials) wanted us to run with them for at least a month to help them get the feel of things,” Peebles said. “After that, we’ll re-evaluate and see where we need to go from there. We may continue to do it (after then).”
The fire chief also noted that his department’s abandonment of its former station won’t affect fire insurance rates for residents in the city’s southeastern and southwestern sectors. Neither should trains prevent a speedy AFD response.
“I talked with ISO (Insurance Services Office) before any of this took place,” he said. “They told me this might count two or three points, but it would not change our rating. As far as the trains, I’ve been here 20 years and I don’t remember them ever holding us up more than a few seconds.”
The city council is expected to give the lease its unanimous approval.