Aging ambulancesDec 3, 2017 By Steven R. Peck, Publisher
In reporter Dan Bendtsen's recent front-page news story about the aging and, reportedly, unreliable fleet of ambulances owned by Fremont County but operated under contract with the private company Guardian EMS, one key phrase sticks out: "The contract between the county and guardian does not stipulate how, if necessary, ambulances will be replaced."
That is a significant tidbit to have been overlooked at contract time.
It shows, again, how complicated the planning process was when the county decided to hand over emergency management services to a private firm after providing it as a public service for a century prior to that.
Guardian officials tell tales of ambulances breaking down in the middle of emergency calls, as well as claims that the county was overcharging for maintenance of the vehicles. The most eye-catching one was a $90 charge for a vehicle gas cap. Unreported in the original story, apparently, was the detail that the $90 charge had been applied more than once when gas caps came up missing. One immediate recommendation: Keep better track of the gas caps.
When the county was in control of all aspects of emergency services, untidy items like these rarely went public. The county bought the ambulances, the county maintained the ambulances, the county operated the ambulances, and, eventually, the county replaced the ambulances. With an outside party now playing such a big role in EMS, a concern such as this one gets aired, as we all learned recently, in a public session at the Fremont County commission.
Surely it goes without saying at this point that consideration of replacing the ambulances ought to have been considered more carefully when the contract was being formulated in the first place.
A new contract will come up eventually, but that is still some distance in the future. If both parties feel this issue is serious enough, the contract could be amended for the purpose of making stipulations about replacing the ambulances. For now, it seems that the county intends to replace the ambulances when it sees fit, expecting Guardian to make do with what is provided.
Judging from other observations about county finances, "making do with what's provided" probably is the best the county can manage for awhile. With virtually every county department and service area squeezed like a lemon rind in a juicer amid the state's fiscal crisis, prospects for buying even one new ambulance, much less a fleet, appear slim.
Anyone who has ever owned an automobile knows that even a new vehicle can break down, and that even an old vehicle can continue to perform reliably with proper treatment.
A corollary to that observation is that anyone who has ever owned a vehicle fleet takes issue with how non-owners drive those vehicles, just has every driver of a fleet vehicle questions how the owners are maintaining it. Differences are inevitable.
In the larger system of emergency services, the ambulance might be compared to the brake pedal in an automobile. You need to be confident it is going to work every single time you use it.
At this point, the priority for both Fremont County and guardian must be to remedy what commission chairman Travis Becker called "a communication problem" and work together to ensure that the ambulances perform as effectively and reliably as possible.
With the county's finances the way they are, both it and Guardian don't have much of a choice.