The Goleta City Council voted Tuesday evening to pass a resolution expressing the city’s preference for the Santa Barbara County Fire Department to be awarded the county’s ambulance services contract.
Santa Barbara County is conducting a public bidding process for the contract for the first time and a five-person panel has evaluated proposals from the Santa Barbara County Fire Department and American Medical Response for the contract that begins in 2024.
AMR has been providing ambulance services in Santa Barbara County for about 50 years, and the panel has recommended that AMR is awarded the new contract.
Santa Barbara County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig protested the initial decision, which was then denied by the county’s procurement officer. Hartwig later filed an appeal to a county-organized protest resolution committee.
Hartwig said that appeal is still being reviewed, and he was told the county should have a decision on his appeal by the end of this week.
Whichever organization wins the ambulance services contract will provide services countywide, including Goleta.
“I felt like it was important for Goleta to be represented as an entity that has a lot of seniors, has a lot of people that are very sensitive to things like response times, very sensitive to how the services are delivered,” said councilmember James Kyriaco who, along with councilmember Luz Reyes-Martín, requested the council address the county contract.
“I felt like it was important to at least have this conversation to make a recommendation.”
Hartwig attended Tuesday’s meeting and told the council that with the current system, County Fire and AMR work well together on scene, but they’re not integrated — they’re on different radio frequencies, different dispatch systems, and they don’t train together.
“The primary benefit to the community with a County Fire-run system is that we’re taking advantage of the 37 stations and personnel that are distributed throughout the county,” Hartwig said. “There’s an existing 911 EMS basic and advanced life support system throughout the County of Santa Barbara. That is roughly seven out of 10 calls that we’re going to go on today will be answering the public’s help for a medical emergency. … So, one of the largest benefits to the community is to truly integrate that system.”
While there was not an official representative from AMR present at the Goleta City Council meeting, a paramedic from AMR did speak during public comment.
“The threat of (County Fire) taking over EMS has been the most stressful part of my career — and I’m a medic, that should tell you something. The reason it’s so stressful is because it threatens our jobs and our livelihoods,” said paramedic Brad Moore.
“Public Health was against (County Fire taking over ambulance services), the ER doctors are against it, the first panel was against it. Now you have the EMTs and paramedics serving on ambulances right now all over the county telling you we are against it. We want what’s best for the community. The best thing for the community is to have us out there performing our jobs, not trying to protect them.”
The vote to pass the resolution supporting a County Fire ambulance services contract was 4-1, with councilmember Stuart Kasdin voting against it.
“I don’t know enough about the nuances of the competition and what happened,” Kasdin said. “I feel very uncomfortable at the idea of being in a position to override that process (of the panel that evaluated the proposals) or suggest that we just don’t like the results that they came up with.”
Kyriaco commented on the fact that, for about 30 years, there has not been a process for Goleta to comment on regarding this, since there wasn’t a competitive bid process for ambulance services in the county until now.
After the protest resolution committee makes a decision on Hartwig’s appeal, the County Public Health Department will determine the next steps.
Once a provider is chosen, county representatives will enter contract negotiations and eventually present a contract to the Board of Supervisors for approval.