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October 2, 2014

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Chief outlines changes made in ambulance transport procedures to wary Las Vegas council

Filling vacant positions, changing deployment strategies and increasing the number of ambulance transports are among the changes being made to increase efficiency at Las Vegas Fire & Rescue, Chief William McDonald told the City Council today.

The issue: McDonald provided a progress report on changes being made based on recommendations from a 2012 study of the Fire Department.

The vote: No action was taken on the report.

What it means: Council members were supportive of efforts to improve the Fire Department’s operation, but the chief’s decision to begin increasing the number of ambulance transports handled by the Fire Department drew some criticism.

“I would vote against this proposal if I had the opportunity,” said Councilman Bob Beers, who questioned the wisdom of having the Fire Department transport more patients to the hospital, tying up ambulances that might be needed at other incidents. “Having (Fire & Rescue) do the transport and sit through the perhaps 30-minute... perhaps 60-minute process of transferring the patient administratively to the hospital’s care doesn’t seem to me an efficient utilization of all that training and all that money that we pay them.”

Until Monday, the city typically dispatched two ambulances to a given incident - one from Fire & Rescue and another from its private contractor, American Medical Response. If a trip to the hospital was needed after a patient had been stabilized, American Medical Response handled the transport about 70 percent of the time.

Now, the Fire Department is beginning to dispatch only its own units to certain medical calls, meaning those ambulances will be the ones taking patients to the hospitals more often. More trips to the hospital means more fees to the Fire Department, which is paid for each transport it makes. McDonald says his goal was to handle at least 50 percent of the transports internally to start and eventually increase that number to 75 percent.

The change is one of several recommended by a 2012 report by the International County/City Management Association.

According to the report, boosting the number of transports could generate $12 million to $14 million in added revenues for Fire & Rescue. As an alternative, the report suggested the city could instead turn over all transport duties to American Medical Response, a move that would save the department $14 million to $18 million in staffing and equipment costs.

On Wednesday, dozens of drivers from American Medical Response showed up at the meeting to demonstrate their opposition to the change in policy, which could cost the company thousands of transports per year.

Because the policy changes were done at the administrative level, they did not require council approval. However, Mayor Carolyn Goodman said “the conversation is going to continue” among city officials about the Fire Department.

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