City drops controver$ial ambulance plan

Fire Chief Charles Werner has decided not to go into the rescue squad biz.

Charlottesville's controversial plan to buy its own ambulances, add rescue staff, and charge citizens for ambulance service has been quietly taken off the table, Henry Graff reports for NBC29. The city's 2007-2008 budget earmarked $750,000 for Charlottesville to take over services many argued that the 48-year-old, volunteer-run, Charlottesville Albemarle Rescue Squad already provided.

Besides a projected drop in revenues, several things have changed since spring 2007, says Charlottesville Fire Chief Charles Werner: Albemarle County added an ambulance to its Monticello Fire Station in the urban ring, and the city, county and CARS were unable to reach an agreement on billing for ambulance service.

"My argument was ambulance capacity," says Werner. "We needed three-and-a-half, and CARS had three." With Albemarle's fourth ambulance now in service, that exceeds capacity needed at peak hours, he says.

"I never questioned CARS' response time," says Werner. "It was about capacity."

City-owned ambulance proponents were criticizing CARS response times in spring 2007. City Councilor/former Charlottesville Fire Chief Julian Taliaferro asked why it took CARS 26 minutes to get to Venable School and accused some of its volunteers of getting lost.

"I was concerned about [response times]," he says now. "Some were pretty excessive."

And now that the city has decided to ditch buying its own ambulances, says Taliaferro, "No one has really talked to me about it. I haven't seen their times lately. I've heard they've improved."

Part of the problem, says Werner, is that there weren't standards for response times in the city. An EMS committee recommended that a first responder should arrive within five minutes in 90 percent of the calls, with an ambulance there within 13 minutes.

CARS arrives within nine minutes in 90 percent of the calls it gets in the city. "In the last three month, they've responded to 96 percent in nine minutes," says Werner.

The city also has more medics on its fire engines, which typically are the first responders, and CARS now has equipment to control stop lights, more volunteers, and better maps, says Werner.

"Hindsight is 20-20," says Werner. "We have come together with CARS to respond better, and I'm working to remove the animosity. I believe CARS provides outstanding service to the community and always has. The good news is the city doesn't have to bill for ambulance service. CARS relies on fundraisers, and I urge people to continue to support them."

Adds Werner, "I never wanted ambulances just to have them. It's great to be back in the firefighting business and not worry about ambulance transport."

"We thought our response times were good all along and the data supported it," says CARS president Larry Claytor. "Things continue to run smoothly and we're there to serve the public."


quote from above: "I never questioned CARS’ response time,” says Werner."

Oct 20, 2008 Daily Progress says:
"ââ?¬Å?We never had any real desire to move forward, but we felt there was a need,” Werner said. ââ?¬Å?It was just a necessity at the time.” Having the extra CARS ambulance run calls in the city will help maintain acceptable emergency response times, he added. In the past year, the squad’s ambulances have exceeded the city’s goal for emergency response times...."

So why wasn't it about response times? Seems like Werner is telling The Hook one thing, and telling The Daily Progress another.

It has been clear to me all along that Werner's word can't be trusted.

It has been clear to me all along that Cville Eye is an uninformed, self-important blowhard.

Ed in Greenbrier, I was informed enough to call the CFD's hand on this matter when the issue first came up. Again, you take a very child-like approach to your relationship with government officials and I'm very glad that there are others here who do not. Keep repeating your comments about Cville Eye; I've never read anyone say that they agree with you on an issue because you never weigh-in on one.

Ed in Greenbrier, care to comment on any of this?
ââ?¬Å?We’re not looking at taking that quilt apart, we’re looking at making that quilt stronger and making it a bit bigger,” Werner said. ââ?¬Å?This is not anything negative about CARS. I want to reiterate that CARS is an exceptional organization.” He said growing response times are a symptom of a lack of ambulances in the system, and added that he would investigate looking at ways to help ensure CARS’ financial stability.
ââ?¬Å?The reason we have three fire stations is to meet response times, to get there as fast as we can,” Werner said. ââ?¬Å?In an EMS life threatening situation, those moments of first-response care are the most critical, so you need to have them strategically located.”

Prepared for disaster, Werner claims he wasn't surprised by the political storm that erupted last year when he solicited city funds for the fire department's own ambulances and emergency responders to supplement the efforts of the all-volunteer Charlottesville Albemarle Rescue Squad.
"We're not trying to take over the rescue squad," he insists. "Our desire is to augment." He would do things differently today, he says: he'd use a citizen's committee sooner rather than later to support his point that response times during peak periods needed to improve. "There would have been a better reception," he believes.

Charlottesville still needs more ambulances. The only reason it was nixed was because the City and County agreed to extending their fire service contract for three more years. Which means the City won't need ambulance transport fee profits for three more years. It's not about the citizens or the people paying the taxes, its about CARS pride and not wanting to admit that they can't do the job. And by the way, CARS is not all volunteer, but keep believing what you read.

To All,

From the beginning I referenced the Matrix Report and the Local EMS Committee recommendations, I referenced the need for ambulance capacity. Originally (before response time standards were set) the belief was that a 5/6 minute response time was required for ambulances but that turned out to be decided otherwise by the EMS Committee and was set at 13 minutes 90% of the time (which CARS has always met or exceeded). The point of capacity was that the factor of 40% (Matrix Study) was indicative that while response times may not suffer now, that it would likely begin to degrade response capability as the call load increased. The intent was to be proactive rather than reactive. The reference to augmenting and improving response times was also referenced as another advantage of locating an ambulance at the furthest proposed fire station near the Fontaine Research Park where the longest response times occur because of the geographic distance from CARS and CFD.

The most important aspect of this is that between CFD and CARS, the best possible service will be delivered to the citizens at the lowest possible cost and no billing is necessary.

At the end of the day, I make the recommendation based on the recommendations made by the EMS Committee of ambulance capacity and response times....which are all now being met with surplus capacity for some time into the future.

It is now time to focus on service and cooperation and end the negative comments that do nothing but create an unproductive divide. Let us all join together and support CARS through donations that will allow them to meet their operational funding needs.

The City is working to insure that the Opticom is operational for CARS and is in the process of purchasing mobile computers for several of the CARS ambulances.

Thanks to all,

Charles Werner, Charlottesville Fire Chief