By Adam Smith
The North Jefferson News
Residents in some north Jefferson County cities are now being served by a new ambulance company.
As of June 16, Regional Paramedic Services (RPS) is now serving Mt. Olive and the cities of Gardendale and Morris.
The switch means severing ties with NorthStar Emergency Medical Services Inc., which has served those residents for the past 16 years. Fultondale, however, has decided to remain with NorthStar.
Chief Clint Doss of the Gardendale Fire Department said the move to RPS was in response to some issues with NorthStar that he said could not be resolved.
“The reason for the change can be documented with records that show inadequacy in the company we were using,” he said. “We researched our long ETA’s (estimated time of arrival) and the fact that we couldn’t get an ambulance when we needed it.”
Doss conducted a meeting with public safety officials in Fultondale, Mt. Olive, Morris and Glenwood to address the issues.
He said based on factors of fire department size, number of residents and monthly call volume, Gardendale had indirectly dictated which ambulance companies service the area. However, he said he wanted to get feedback from those officials before making a decision to change emergency services.
“We had meetings and discussed the pros and cons of our current service and our future company,” he said. “Once we all sat down and worked out what we wanted, we were all in agreement that we would move to RPS.”
One municipality not in agreement with the move is the City of Fultondale, who elected to stay with NorthStar.
Fultondale Police Chief Byron Pigg said the city had not experienced any significant delays in response or any other problems with NorthStar
“I did a little investigation behind that and found that to be bogus,” he said.
Pigg said when he found out about the proposed change, he met with officials from NorthStar and issues were resolved.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he said. “As long as they can hold up their end, I’m not going to initiate any changes unless the city leaders tell me to.”
Mt. Olive Fire Chief Chip Cousins said he had witnessed a slower response time from NorthStar.
He said the company, which operated out of an emergency station in Gardendale, could have likely sped up their response time by placing another ambulance in Mt. Olive. However, in a community that averages about 400 calls a year, he could see why the company would not want a full-time emergency vehicle in Mt. Olive.
“We were looking at average response times of 20 to 25 minutes,” Cousins said. “With RPS, I would dare say we have not had longer than a 10 minute wait.”
He said while Mt. Olive’s residents are better off for now, the key will be if RPS can keep up its track record.
“We’ll have to look at it in a year from now,” he said. “Will we still have great response times or will we start slipping back? That’s going to be up to the departments in the area to maintain that commitment.”
Morris Fire Chief Ryan Alexander said he has also seen a quicker response time, though only about six ambulance calls have been dispatched since RPS’s service began. “We’ve benefitted because they keep three trucks in Gardendale, which are within 10 minutes,” he said.
Lee Bevan of NorthStar said his company would continue to maintain the Gardendale base. He also disagreed with the assertion that his company’s response times had slowed.
“With our first-out unit, our response times were as good as anyone’s,” Bevan said. “Our unit out there [Gardendale] was a totally dedicated unit that responded to nowhere else but that area.”
Doss said he has no ill feelings toward NorthStar and that the decision was not motivated politically, monetarily or through any other special favors. He said NorthStar was given a chance to correct “documented issues,” but those changes had not been made.
“I do not change companies mid-stream or when the wind blows,” he said. “We would not have changed if the service had been adequate. We did our research and our homework and have been 100 percent satisfied with our new service.”
By Adam Smith