Breckenridge ambulance provider stripped of transport rights after spat with county government |

Breckenridge ambulance provider stripped of transport rights after spat with county government

Jack Queen
Red, White, and Blue Timberwolf 4-Wheel firetruck at Breckenridge Ski Resort Monday, May 15, 2017, in Breckenridge.
Hugh Carey / |

The Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday stripped a Breckenridge ambulance provider’s authority to transport patients, delivering a major setback to years of work integrating Summit’s EMS responders and bringing a bitter end to a dispute marked by distrust and frustration on both sides.

The move bars the Red, White and Blue Fire Protection District’s three ambulances from transporting patients to hospitals except under life-threatening circumstances, although its medics will still be able to provide on-scene care.

To compensate, the county-run ambulance service will likely move one of its units from Frisco to the Breckenridge area and hire more personnel, officials said. The county’s other ambulance providers, Copper Mountain Fire and Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue, will also have to pick up some of the slack.

“The crews will be busier and we’re going to have to make some changes,” said assistant county manager Sarah Vaine. “Any way you slice it, it’s better if we have Red, White and Blue as a full partner, but we think there’s sufficient capacity in the system to manage.”

That is disputed, however, along virtually every claim made in a long-running spat over RWB’s contributions to countywide services.

“Without a doubt they’re biting off more than they can chew,” said RWB fire chief Jim Keating. “What we’ve observed and dealt with over the past three years is a lack of personnel to staff their medic units during stress times.”

The primary issue was RWB’s limited participation in out-of-county transports, or OCTs, which are time-consuming and can be bad for crew morale. The district only runs OCTs that originate within its borders and does not participate in the countywide rotation that includes Copper Mountain, Lake Dillon Fire and the Summit County Ambulance Service.

Tuesday’s decision means that RWB will go from providing about 5 percent of the roughly 700 OCTs per year to none at all. All in-county transports currently carried out by RWB — except the 10 to 15 percent deemed immediately life threatening — will fall to the remaining providers.

The county argues that the decrease in capacity is necessary for balance.

“The problem is we can’t give Red, White and Blue a concession we don’t give to the other partners,” Vaine said. “If they just keep moving the line on what they provide, it creates frustration for the others.”

The county also objected to RWB’s deployment of a new substation in the growing Peak 7 area — which would include a medic unit — arguing that the countywide ambulance system is already over capacity.

To back up that claim, staff pointed to a study of response-times by an outside consultant, although RWB insists the inquiry was biased.

That disagreement reflects the deeper issue at play: cooperation among members of the county Emergency Services Authority, a body ostensibly designed to foster group decision-making.

RWB, however, saw the group as a stalking horse for consolidating Summit’s ambulance providers under county government control. That would allow it to prop up the ailing finances of its own ambulance service with tax revenues from the fire districts, the thinking goes.

The county firmly insists that fears of such a takeover are misguided and that it merely wants to make the collective ambulance system more efficient.

“The goal is that everyone has an equal say and we make data-driven decisions together,” Vaine said.

RWB had already stopped participating in ES Authority meetings earlier this year, but Tuesday’s decision means that the fire district would remain out of the group.

“We are not interested in entering into any outside management agreement,” Keating said. “We remain open to discussions of any legitimate solution that falls under the scope of operations we can offer, which we made pretty clear.”

All three county commissioners expressed hope that they could eventually work with RWB again. But Tuesday’s vote nonetheless gave a strong signal that the fire district was being cut out of ambulance services for the foreseeable future.

“We all need to be playing by the same rules,” Commissioner Dan Gibbs said. “It’s painful, but I would rather have three equal partners moving forward together, even if that means leaving a fourth behind.”

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