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Central firefighters give patient transport; state opens investigation

The Central Arizona Fire and Medical Authority, which has filed several complaints against local ambulance provider Life Line Ambulance for slow response times, is now the focus of a state investigation because it transported a patient in a fire engine while on one of those calls.

Fire Chief Scott Freitag said, in a letter to community leaders that the department has been filing complaints with the state Department of Health Services whenever Life Line had an “extended response time,” which he defined as more than 30 minutes after the arrival of a fire crew to an emergency medical call.

“Honestly, giving them 30 minutes after our arrival, which really means a 35-40 minute response from their time of dispatch to arrival, is being generous,” Freitag said.

The investigation stems from an incident in June in which a Life Line ambulance arrived at a scene eight minutes after the fire engine.

“But (the crew) did not exit their vehicle. Our officer on scene approached the crew in the ambulance and asked if they were going to provide patient care. They responded that their unit was going to be dispatched to a higher priority call. Ultimately, the ambulance left the scene without transporting the patient,” Freitag wrote, in a response to the complaint.

He added that the next ambulance was 15 to 20 minutes away, and knowing there was a shortage of ambulances operating that night, “the captain opted to transport as he felt it was in the patient’s best interest,” Freitag wrote.

That decision could potentially have violated a rule. Ron Anderson of the Bureau of Emergency Medical Services and Trauma System said, in an Aug. 23 letter, the complaint asserts that the fire crew “transported a non-critical patient to Yavapai Regional Medical Center’s East Campus” without a permit to operate as an ambulance.

Freitag responded that they “do not charge patients when we end up transporting them in our engines. This is something we have had to do for years, is not statutorily prohibited, and we will continue to do when in the opinion of our on-scene personnel it is in the best interest of the patient. We recognize that this is not ideal; however, we will not under any circumstances jeopardize patient care by waiting on scene because a transport agency is unable to handle their call volume.”

Anderson did not say who filed the complaint, but Freitag said it was Life Line Ambulance.

The regional chief operating officer for Life Line’s parent company, American Medical Response, Glenn Kasprzyk, said he had no comment and that the company would “respect the process and will await for the completion and findings by the regulator.”

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