The fight continues for Santa Barbara County’s ambulance services contract.

An evaluation committee scored American Medical Services, the current provider, higher in its proposal for the contract than the County Fire Department’s proposal.

Fire Chief Mark Hartwig protested the decision, and on Wednesday the county denied the protest.  

From here, Hartwig plans to appeal that decision to the protest resolution committee.

He said he hopes “fresh eyes on the process” and the chance to give an oral presentation on the protest issues will result in a different decision.

“We believe we have a superior product,” he said. “We’re hoping we can get a panel that will see it the same way we do.”

The appeal window closes on Wednesday, according to the county.

At stake is a multimillion-dollar contract to provide exclusive ambulance services to the entire county, including emergency response and transport and inter-facility transfers.

AMR has been the provider for about 50 years, and this is the first time the county has conducted a public bidding process for the contract.

The new contract is expected to start in March 2024.

A five-person committee evaluated AMR’s and County Fire’s proposals, watched presentations and scored the plans.

All five panelists scored AMR’s proposal higher than County Fire’s proposal, with total scores of 2,077.75 points for AMR and 1,760 points for County Fire.

In his initial protest, Hartwig argued AMR’s proposal was not specific enough, didn’t meet some minimum requirements for the request-for-proposals process, and that giving the contract to County Fire would be a greater financial benefit for the community.

He also argued that the review process should consider AMR’s contract dispute with Sonoma County (which is also doing a public bidding process for its ambulance services contract).

AMR attorney Pamela Johnston responded that the protest arguments lacked merit, and that the Sonoma County dispute has no bearing on the company’s ability to provide services in Santa Barbara County.

The county denied Hartwig’s protest in a Wednesday letter written by Phung Loman, the county’s chief procurement officer in the General Services Department.

In the letter, Loman writes that the request for proposals didn’t require proposers to disclose non-compliance in certain sections, and that both proposals received a “pass” in each category.

Hartwig also had challenged the evaluation and scoring process, and Loman’s letter states multiple times that “statements challenging the judgment of the review panel shall not be considered as valid protests.”

However, Hartwig’s concerns with the process likely contributed to the Board of Supervisors’ decision to cut its own consultant out of the protest review process.

Fitch & Associates is helping conduct the request-for-proposals process and contract negotiations with whichever provider is chosen.

Last month, after the protest was filed, the board specifically chose not to pay Fitch to work on the protest review or possible appeal process.

Since about 80% of Fire Department calls are medical calls, it makes sense for the Fire Department to provide ground ambulance services, local fire chiefs have argued during the bidding process.

AMR representatives said their employees focus on emergency medical services and provide good outcomes for patients.

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Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Managing Editor

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at