Santa Barbara County Ambulance Service Contract

By an edhat reader

After following the saga of the ambulance contract process of the last couple of years, many questions have come about regarding who should be awarded the service.

Santa Barbara County Fire believes they can provide better service for less cost than American Medical Response (AMR), who currently has the contract.

County Fire has every right to make a competitive bid for the contract. AMR also wants to keep the ambulance contract they have had for 50 years.

I am interested in what readers think about who the best provider of such a vital service to the citizens of Santa Barbara County might be?


Written by TrailHiker

What do you think?


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  1. A “Request For Proposal (RFP)” process was set up by the county to select an ambulance service provider. The RFP process used independent experts in the field of emergency response care to create criteria that would be used to objectively evaluate each proposal and score the various categories to determine the best contract proposal to accept for the citizens of Santa Barbara County. By all accounts, AMR significantly out-scored County Fire in this independent evaluation process and was given the right to continue providing ambulance service for the County. This should have been the end of the issue but County Fire could not take no for an answer and filed several appeals and protests, which were all reviewed and denied by county department heads. End of the debate…right? But County Fire had one more trick up their sleeves…appealing to the County Board of Supervisors, which given their history of receiving large donations from the fire unions, supported the County Fire’s request to throw out the entire RFP process, ignoring the hundreds of hours of hard work by County Staff and the expense of hiring the independent experts that came up with a fair, objective and independent process. This whole situation reminds me of a child (County Fire) not liking what father (the independent evaluators) told them so they went to mother (County Board of Supervisors) crying to get a different answer. Now here’s the really interesting part…a day after the Board of Supervisors gave into County Fire’s crying, seven brand new ambulance vans purchased by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department showed up on flatbeds outside of the County Garage on Dump Road and were offloaded. The RFP process was completed and AMR won the competition, but County Fire appealed all the way up the Board of Supervisors, which made their decision to throw out the entire RFP and open the door back again for County Fire to take over the ambulance contract for the county. So here’s the question…How was the County Fire Department so sure that the Board of Supervisors would eventually rule in their favor that they purchased these seven brand new ambulances months before that showed up literally the day after the Board of Supervisors vote? Not only that, County Fire purchased an additional 28 brand new ambulances within weeks to bring the total to 35, at a total cost of $3.6 million. Those with any experience ordering fleet vehicles know that such an order had to be made many months prior. It is not something that you go out and acquire in a day. Who authorized this purchased given the contract was won by AMR, with all appeals rejected until the March Board of Supervisors meeting that nullified the entire RFP process? County Fire threw out a smoke screen stating they purchased these new ambulance because they wanted to be prepared to immediately take over the contract from AMR, even though they had no reason to do so given they lost the RFP and subsequent appeals. This is not the way to fiduciary manage taxpayer’s funds. The optics on all of this is pretty damming. At best, it shows a sever lack of judgement on the part of the County Fire Chief and his staff for spending money on ambulance purchases when they did not have the contract. At worst, it hints of collusion between the County Fire Department and the Board of Supervisors, disregarding the due process of the RFP with the intent of giving the County Fire Department what they wanted all along. In summary: Where is the accountability of County Fire, the County Purchase Department and the County Board of Supervisors? Why was an independent review process thrown out? Why did the Board of Supervisors take on the final authority to decide who gets the medical ambulance contracts to the concerns of the local hospitals and medical professionals? Why is the Santa Barbara County Fire Department allowed to pull the strings of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors? Why are the local “investigative” media not pursuing this apparent breach of accountability?

    • TRAILHIKER – In a July 25 article, another local publication reported Co Fire bought and received 35 new ambulances when they did not have a contract. I believe, at a minimum, the Grand Jury should investigate to determine who authorized money be released for this purchase and the manner in which the contract was awarded. In part, “Grand Jury’s – Determine whether public monies are being spent wisely and for appropriate purposes; [and] Ensure Local government agencies conduct their business in an open and transparent manner.”

  2. I’ve been closely following the developments in the news regarding this situation, along with Andy Caldwell’s comments, and I have to say it’s deeply concerning. It feels like we’re witnessing a troubling shift that makes one question whether we’re veering towards a situation reminiscent of a Banana Republic.
    Initially, I, like many, supported giving the Fire Department an opportunity to compete. They did, and their defeat by a substantial margin should logically have marked the end of it. However, the subsequent nod and wink from the Fire Unions and the decision to seemingly sweep the entire competition under the rug to appease them is disconcerting, to say the least.
    What’s even more troubling is the Board’s proposal to transfer the EMS agency, which oversees the 911 system, out of the public health department and place it under the Fire Department’s jurisdiction. It raises questions about the motives behind this move, as it appears to be an attempt to cover up the shortcomings of the new system.
    The legality of such actions is a legitimate concern. It’s disheartening to witness what seems like a deviation from transparent and accountable governance. I hope for clarity and accountability in this matter, as it’s crucial for the well-being and trust of our community.
    Let’s hope for a resolution that aligns with fairness and the best interests of our community.

  3. Trail Hiker is spot on here, I too wish too see some more transparency from our elected Board of Supervisors and appointed Fire Service personnel. Seems that the Fire Department is getting too political here and have the County Board of Supervisors in their back pocket. I would welcome a more thorough investigation into this matter and perhaps financial wrong doings on behalf of the county or it’s fire department. It’s no surprise that the Fire Dept has been a longstanding favorite of the BOS for their backing and heartwarming mission, leading to inflated fire budgets/programs over other agencies.

  4. My experience (22 years with the federal govt) is that gov’t employees cannot provide better and cheaper service than contractors.
    What does it mean that SB county fire “believes” they can provider better and cheaper service? Did they publish a proposal? Can we see it? Is it fixed-price? Perhaps the proposal includes examples of other towns where costs went down after switching from private to public. Please educate us!

  5. “Transparency” and “Santa Barbara County Board of supervisors” do not belong in the same sentence.
    Crooked Das sold out half of the county’s AG land to cannabis conglomerates / playboys from out of state to turn us into the biggest / second biggest cannabis producer in the state (it fluctuates between us and Humboldt) and the supes continually vote against public interests to line their pockets.
    Remember, not only can these people be voted out in elections but they can actually be found legally responsible for their wrongdoings and get tried as criminals.
    Anyone know what agency could initiate that investigation? I know a lot of SB county residents that would support that.

  6. This ‘competition’ has been absurd and wasteful. In most calls it seems both agencies respond and try to get the business. Sort of “preambulance chasers”! One would think that the Fire Dept which is already on duty and funded could either do the work or be modified to include this work more efficiently than having a second agency. But I think the private contractor pays its employs substantially less and therefore can sort of compete. As a member of the community I don’t think we should encourage this model.

  7. It’s all about the money and perks. The FD union that supports the election of the supervisor candidates they want and, in return, the supervisors return the favor. N ow stand by for the expense of upgraded facilities to house these new ambulances; increased staffing to operate these new ambulances; raises for the EMTs and their supervisors because of increased job descriptions; etc.; etc. The entire process between County Fire and the Board of Supervisors has a foul smell to it.

  8. EMS is a money maker- From transport, field dispursed meds, add in lights and siren upgrade costs, it’s a huge bill. (thousands before you are even seen in an ER). Most transports are unable to pay- Guess who pays the Ambulance Company or whoever is transporting…? Taxpayers. We’re OVER paying no matter who the Ambulance provider is. Same holds true with those who visit the ER…Insane costs and overcharges for service. It’s a business- Your health is a sidebar.

  9. Fire Dept. (Hartwig and friends Co.) in collaboration with the board of (not so) supervisors, subverted political process here for unknown political gain.
    Anyone who feels similarly should submit their thoughts to the Dept. of Justice addressed to the Public Integrity Section. I will post a link below if EdHat allows.
    It is long overdue that the supes are investigated since most of them have been lining their pockets from benefiting from the disadvantage of many county constituents through their underhanded measures.

  10. I will be entering my bid (informally) to provide EMS services to the county of Santa Barbara.
    Emergency Medical Stoners will pick you up, rush you to the hospital and get you there in (mostly) one piece all for the price of $99.99.
    Of course I’ll make sure and “donate” $59.99 of each transport cost to your SB county Supervisor of choice.

  11. And just like that, the slimy BOS deny the application from the current provider and hand it over to the greedy Fire Department. A 4-1 vote and the one not in favor cited legality issues, maybe that’s a wake up to others that their strong arming the process set in place by the county EMS agency is a sham and promotes their allegiance to the fire dept. and their unions. This is going to turn into a disaster and I hope that not too many people perish by the time they get this figured out. I also hope that the current provider takes legal action against this atrocity.

  12. I’m hearing a lot of talk about the Fire Department providing more “transparency” than AMR. So far we have purchasing ambulances in secret, hiding the ambulances out on VSFB in hopes nobody will see them, and moving the EMS agency who provides regulatory oversight of the EMS system, from the Public Health Department to the Fire Department. Not off to a very good start.

  13. All the information that the Fire Department is releasing is just propaganda to advance their agenda and get their way. They will get their way and the BOS will support them now and when they come back to ask for more money realizing that they are already deep into budget shortfalls (new dispatch center/vehicle outfitting), and it won’t be the first time we have seen this happen. These firefighters didn’t join the fire service to ride an ambulance around town picking up transients or elderly, this will be interesting and they will likely ask for pay increases to do this new job.

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