Nestled within the city’s $140 million proposed budget is a line that provides $966,122 for an ambulance service for the city fire department. Officials say the new service will supplement the 47-year-old volunteer rescue squad in the face of a growing population and lagging emergency response times. But volunteers with the Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad (CARS) say the item caught them by surprise, and citizens wonder if the pricey new service is necessary.
“It’s not [CARS’] fault, but the situation is they don’t have sufficient resources to do it anymore,” says Julian Taliaferro, city councilor and former Charlottesville fire chief. The new ambulance service would use a “compassionate billing system” to make up revenues; the city has not announced how the service would integrate with the existing fire and rescue system.
Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad President Larry Claytor thought his organization was going to have meetings with the city fire department on improving the rescue system. Instead, the city slipped their own solution into the budget.
CARS President Larry Claytor says the item caught him off-guard. CARS began talks with the city last fall about their performance after the fire department presented them with a hand-prepared list of response times.
Though official data from the Emergency Call Center may differ, Taliaferro and Fire Chief Charles Werner say the fire department’s independent study of CARS found that CARS’ response times were over 10 minutes 16 percent of the time. As for the other 84 percent of the time, Werner says, “They range anywhere from six to eight minutes.”
But data mistakes are “frequent,” says CARS Captain Dayton Haugh, pointing to a Matrix Consulting Group study, commissioned by the city and county, which turned up errors. The fire department has refused to release their own response times, several CARS officials have said.
When completed, the comprehensive Matrix study would also provide a complete picture of the state of the fire and rescue system, “a report card of what we need to improve,” says Dan Eggleston, Albemarle fire and rescue chief. “[The systems] are right on top of each other. Citizens expect us to work together.”
But the results of the Matrix study have not yet been released, begging the question: Why would the city implement a $1 million solution without a report on the current state of affairs?
There may not be enough time to find out—City Council appeared to favor the proposal at a March 20 work session, and the budget gets passed April 10. There is a refrain among CARS volunteers that the ambulance item is a “done deal.”
“We have been trying to avoid any public debate so that it would be all under the radar,” Werner says. “Hopefully [CARS] would’ve embraced the additional resources in a way that it would’ve been a silent transaction.—with additional reporting by Carrie Wellman
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