AUBURN — Councilor Ron Potvin wasn’t the only one disagreeing with Monday’s City Council decision to enter into a contract with United Ambulance, thus taking the city’s sole emergency response transport vehicle out of service.

“We’re basically playing Russian roulette and rolling the dice and hopefully United will be able to come,” said Mike Scott, union president of Auburn Firefighters Local 797. “From our end, it’s just the level of service being provided. It could be a lengthy amount of time for United to get there.”

Scott said that the firefighters union does not agree with the council’s decision to pull Rescue 1, which is the city’s only emergency vehicle able to transport patients to the hospital. Instead, city officials entered into an agreement with the private ambulance company that is projected to save the city an estimated $115,000 per year, including fuel costs for the truck and overtime reductions by putting rescue staff to work in other areas.

But firefighters worry that the move could put lives at risk because of potentially longer wait times, Scott said. He pointed out that Rescue 1 currently only transports patients to the hospital in cases where the emergency calls for immediate transport or a United ambulance is not available. Now, an Auburn fire engine will still respond to the scene of an emergency as the primary team, but city rescue crews will wait for a United ambulance before transporting patients.

“Our main concern is ensuring that citizens are given the highest level of protection as possible,” Scott said. “Not on every patient is that time critical, but again, you’re kind of rolling the dice and taking a chance with people’s lives if United isn’t available right away.” 

But fire Chief Wayne Werts said he and other city officials will closely monitor the new contract over the course of the next year to ensure that United meets established benchmarks, including that the company have one ambulance on hand to respond anywhere within city limits within 11 minutes. The contract also requires the company to respond to all medical emergency calls requiring lights and sirens within eight minutes 90 percent of the time, and respond to nonemergency calls within 11 minutes 90 percent of the time.

Scott took issue with the time frames and pointed to a Monday night incident as an example of future issues with the benchmarks set by the contract. Around the same time city officials were signing on the dotted line, Scott said that Rescue 1 was on the move with an 18-month-old suffering seizures who needed immediate transport to the hospital. He said that the city’s first responders were on scene for 10 minutes and were told that United’s unit would be another seven to 10 minutes before arriving.

“They needed to be transported,” Scott said. “There was no way this child could wait.”

Werts, on the other hand, contends that the clock hasn’t started ticking for United’s response times. He said that while city officials may have approved the contract Monday night, the city must advertise the change for at least 30 days before the move becomes official and United takes over transport services. 

“United has said they can step up to the plate and deliver,” Werts said in defense of United. “They haven’t made any changes to their staffing yet. The agreement hasn’t officially taken effect.”

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