Council approves for public-private ambulance service

EAST LIVERPOOL — With a unanimous vote, city council suspended its rules Monday night, giving all three readings and final approval for a public-private ambulance service in the city.

Prior to voting on the ordinance, council heard from Ken Joseph, chief paramedic and owner of Lifeteam EMS, who said he would have no choice but to move his business from the city if council approved the agreement with Ambulance Service Inc., a Steubenville-based company that currently operates an ambulance service on Webber Way in the city.

Joseph said Lifeteam has been operating since 1967 and that, while there have been times when an ambulance hasn’t been available, generally speaking, between his and other ambulance companies, “we’ve kept it covered.”

City officials disagree, citing several occasions on which ambulances took considerable time to arrive, other instances where an ambulance was supposedly en route then suddenly wasn’t available and times when no ambulance was available.

The most recent instance reported was during a fire last week in which a man ran from his house, his body on fire, and was transported to the hospital by police officers. Officials have said an ambulance was called but did not arrive quickly enough, convincing officers to transport the victim themselves.

Joseph told council, “I think there are other ways to look at this. If this is implemented, we will have to leave the city. It will leave us nothing to do.”

He cautioned, “I think this will ultimately leave you with loss of service.”

As proposed, the agreement between the city and ASI will be for only emergency calls, with the city to hire three firefighters from an existing list generated from the last Civil Service Commission firefighters’ test. Their wages and benefits — other than workmen’s compensation — will be paid by ASI.

The city will purchase two used ambulances, with the primary unit to be housed and operated from the Central Fire Station and the second housed at the former North Side Station on St. Clair Avenue.

Councilman Brian Kerr emphasized to Joseph that this service will not be offering transportation of patients to and from nursing homes, which has been cited as one of the reasons the other ambulance companies often have no units available. It will be used only in response to 911 calls.

“There will still be work (for ambulances) around besides the city,” Kerr offered.

Joseph said he will see if he is able to maintain staffing at his location in Calcutta.

Chief Bill Jones said when the concept was first brought up for discussion, Joseph was contacted along with other ambulance company owners, all of whom were offered the opportunity to provide input.

“He declined to meet to discuss the issues,” Jones said.

The only proposal received by the city was from ASI.

After the meeting, Jones expressed his gratitude for council’s support of the proposal and said he is hoping the new ambulance service can be up and running by April 1 but said, “It’s a new concept for us, so it might take a bit longer.”

The next step will be to approach council’s finance committee for funding to purchase the ambulances, after which Jones said interviews will have to be scheduled for potential candidates from the eligibility list.

The firefighters’ union was also meeting after Monday night’s council session to discuss a side letter that will be incorporated into the existing contract for the three new positions.