Garfield County mulls countywide ambulance district
July 8, 2009
GARFIELD COUNTY – The town of Silt wants to get out of the ambulance business, the Burning Mountains Fire Protection District seems willing to consider taking over Silt’s town-sponsored service, and Garfield County is taking steps to join into discussions that might lead to formation of an ambulance authority covering the entire county.
At a meeting of the Garfield County commissioners this week, county officials agreed to pursue the idea, which has been under discussion among various officials for more than a year.
According to Silt town administrator Betsy Suerth, the idea first arose when she and the Town Council realized that rising costs of service and declining revenues from insurance payments might create a fiscal squeeze on the municipality’s West Care ambulance service, which is an “enterprise fund” within the town government.
“It’s financial on the town of Silt’s part,” Suerth explained. “The reality is that an ambulance service [such as the West Care agency] is not a sustainable model. Realistically, you have to be a taxing entity” in order to adequately fund and manage such a service.
The West Care service was created to provide emergency ambulance services to Silt’s residents and at one point a broader area, after a complicated series of prior arrangements, including a private company that went out of business, fell apart.
Burning Mountains Fire Chief Brit McLin explained that his district, following an agreement several years ago with the town of New Castle, took over 911 service to New Castle in addition to about 440 square miles of western Garfield County, including the area surrounding Silt itself. That left Silt with West Care, which Suerth said is no longer considered a viable arrangement.
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Suerth said the town of Silt, the Burning Mountains district board and officials from New Castle have been talking about transferring Silt’s 911-emergency ambulance service function to the fire district.
“There is interest on both sides to make that transition,” Suerth said in a telephone interview on Tuesday, noting that Silt’s elected leaders are hoping the deal can be put together by the end of 2009.
But various fire and ambulance officials went before the Garfield County commissioners this week to see if there is any value in considering a countywide ambulance authority to consolidate the different services now under the auspices of fire protection districts in Rifle, Glenwood Springs and Carbondale.
The Garfield County commissioners agreed on Monday to join in the talks by sending Dale Hancock, director of the county’s general services agency, to a meeting of the county’s Emergency Medical and Trauma Advisory Council, which oversees the licensing procedures for ambulance services.
“This is not something that will happen overnight,” cautioned McLin, pointing out that there are many differing interests and ideas at work in the debate to, as he called it, “bring ambulance services into the firehouse.”
His district, he said, is “the only fire district [in Garfield County] that does not provide EMS [emergency medical services],” although the district does have a relatively old ambulance to provide back-up for West Care.
Before Silt’s hopes can be fulfilled, he said, “I think there’s a whole forest of T’s to cross.”
McLin predicted that an agreement is not likely to be hammered out by the end of this year, and that a deal could take considerably longer.