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New agreement has city reimbursed for first-responder calls
Ceres fire truck
In 2020 Ceres Fire and other departments in the county will be paid for responding to medical aid calls under a new agreement with Mountain-Valley Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Agency. - photo by Jeff Benziger

A new agreement approved last week will result in the city of Ceres being paid a small amount of money to respond to emergency medical aid calls.

The Mountain-Valley Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Agency regulates emergency medical services and ambulance services in Stanislaus, Calaveras and Tuolumne counties. American Medical Response (AMR) is the ambulance company selected to continue providing ambulance services. The new agreement between AMR and Mountain-Valley calls for the company to reimburse city fire agencies to respond to emergency medical technician (EMT) or basic life support (BLS) services dependent upon each agency’s medical certification level.

The reimbursement rate will be at $17 per incident. Last year Ceres Fire Department responded to 3,609 emergency medical aid calls. Had the agreement been in place last year the city would have been reimbursed $61,353.

The previous agreement with AMR only had the ambulance company paying fire departments for lift assists and each time a firefighter rode to the hospital in an ambulance with the patient. Last year AMR paid Ceres Fire approximately $20,000.

“Now every EMS call we go on we don’t get any compensation,” said Ceres Fire Chief Kevin Wise. “The only way we get compensated today is if they call us out for a lift assist or a firefighter rides to the hospital in the ambulance. So now we’re actually going to be paid for a call.”

One requirement for payment is that Ceres Fire Department must meet minimum response time standards for three zones in and around the city most of the time. Most of Ceres falls under the urban response zone which allows for up to a seven-minute response time 90 percent of the time. In 2018, Ceres Fire Department’s average response time was 4:47 between dispatch time and responding on scene. In the urban zone an AMR ambulance will be required to be on scene in 9:59.

AMR also will supply Ceres Fire with disposable medical supplies and oxygen.

Mountain-Valley will track the total calls made by each fire agency at the end of the year and bill AMR based on that number, said Wise. AMR would then pay Mountain-Valley which in turn would send payment to the city of Ceres.

The reason AMR is willing to pay the cities is because they want to avoid paying fines when it takes too long to respond to a call, said Wise.

“With us considered part of the EMS system our value to them is we’re allowing AMR two more minutes to get to the call,” said Wise. “They used to pay fines. We’re usually always there first.”

If Ceres Fire had paramedics on fire engines, the rate of reimbursement would increase to $25 per call.

Wise is not worried about Ceres Fire meeting exceeding allowable response times, with the average time is 4 minutes, 47 seconds in all the zones.

“It’s highly unlikely we’ll ever be fined because we just have to meet it 90 percent of the time.”