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Panel recommends RFD for one more year

Friday, July 8, 2022
Panel recommends RFD for one more year

Photo courtesy of RFD
The Ambulance Service Committee voted Thursday to recommend to the Lincoln Parish Police Jury to contract with the Ruston Fire Department for ambulance service through 2023.

The next move in the ongoing question of who’s going to provide ambulance and emergency rescue service to Lincoln Parish residents is now in the hands of the Lincoln Parish Police Jury.

The Ambulance Service Committee on Thursday voted 7-3 to recommend to the jury that it enter a one-year, non-negotiable and non-renewable $645,604 contract with the city of Ruston for the Ruston Fire Department to continue providing both services through 2023.

The jury is expected to vote on the recommendation Tuesday during its regular meeting.

“We can come up with enough for one year funding,” parish Administrator Doug Postel said.

The money would most likely come from the parish’s American Rescue Plan Act allocation.

Jury approval of the recommendation would effectively buy the ambulance committee another year to figure out what to do and how to pay for it — a question it’s already been wrestling with for over three months.

The parish has a contract with Ruston for both EMS and rescue service through 2022.

The 7-3 vote to send the 2023 plan to the full jury came after the committee received an unanticipated proposal from Pafford EMS for ambulance service only, and an update from Assistant District Attorney Lewis Jones that there’s still no way to pay for any long-term arrangements.

Early on, Pafford had said it wasn’t interested in providing Lincoln Parish service but changed its mind after the committee’s last meeting.

It now says it will station one dedicated advance life support ambulance in the parish 24/7 for $360,000 annually for five years.

The company will also donate $50,000 to the Lincoln Parish Fire Protection District No. 1 for purchase of vehicle rescue and extrication equipment.

The Pafford proposal is “probably” off the table, should the jury accept Ruston’s one-year offer, Greg Pafford, the company’s CEO for Louisiana and Mississippi operations, said.

The parish fire department has expressed interest in providing rescue service, but so far, it hasn’t given the committee a proposal.

Until Thursday, the committee didn’t think it had any option for ambulance service except RFD. But committee member and jury President Richard Durrett said a Pafford representative called him after the committee’s June 24 meeting saying the company had had “a change of heart” and wanted to submit a proposal.

That miffed Ruston Mayor Ronny Walker and fire Chief Chris Womack, who said the committee should have sought formal requests for proposals months ago rather than now begin to compare another agency with the terms RFD has already given.

“The whole process has been handled inappropriately,” Womack said

In April, the city told the committee it would provide both EMS and rescue service for $645,604 annually. In June, it told the committee it would provide EMS only for $547,148. Both times, the city told the panel it needed a decision by June 30 for budgeting purposes.

That deadline went unmet.

“We needed a decision months ago,” Walker said. “It’s frustrating to me because this had been going on a long time.”

At one point Thursday, the city withdrew its offer for future service, saying it would still be interested in submitting an RFP. That came after Jones questioned both Womack and Pafford Chief Operations Officer Shane Davidson on how each agency staffs ambulances.

RFD has three people on each ambulance — a driver and two for direct patient care. At least one of the three is a paramedic. Pafford has two people on an ambulance — a driver and one for direct patient care. One of those is a paramedic.

Davidson said running a three-person crew isn’t cost effective and usually not needed. Womack disagreed. Walker said later the city will not go to a two-person crew.

Walker took issue with Jones’ questioning, saying it appeared the two services were being pitted against each other.

“This is not a time for debate,” Walker said. “I don’t like the fact that my guys are basically being quizzed about what (Pafford’s) doing.”

Davidson said his company isn’t trying to cause problems.

“We’re not here to cause any kind of friction between the parish and the city,” he said.

Following the meeting, Davidson said Pafford submitted its proposal at the behest of parish residents.

“We had just been asked by citizens in the parish if it came down to submitting a proposal, would we submit a proposal,” he said.

But, at least for now, the committee isn’t positioned to accept a long-term offer from anybody.

“From what I’m hearing, it doesn’t matter what proposal we go with. We still can’t afford it,” Downsville Mayor Reggie Skains said.

The panel wants to propose tacking a fee onto parish residents’ utility bills but has so far been unable to determine a mechanism for that.