Firefighters who used an emergency ambulance to rescue a baby are under investigation

CHINO VALLEY, AZ – WOMEN: Hurry up please. Hurry up please.

MAIL: What is happening?

WOMEN: The baby fell into the tub. She drowned. She is not breathing. Send help immediately.

The 911 call arrived on August 20, 2021.

En route, firefighters from the Central Arizona Fire and Medical Authority made two calls.

The first was a radio call to the ambulance which answered.

“How far away are you guys?” ”

The answer: “We’re about 12 minutes away.”

That’s when the firefighters made their second call – a judgment call. They decided to use the unofficial ambulance they had brought as backup.

The crew transported the baby to a nearby helicopter, which transported the 8-month-old to Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

The baby survived and was released a few days later.

“We really didn’t think much about it, other than we transported with (our own rescue vehicle) and that was a good thing. We saved someone in the community, ”said Scott Freitag, chief of the Central Arizona Fire and Medical Authority, or CAFMA. “That is until we receive notice of investigation from (Arizona Department of Health Services).”

There are over 150,000 residents in Prescott, the Prescott Valley and surrounding areas, but the state allows an ambulance supplier to operate there. It’s Life Line Ambulance, which is a for-profit business under a larger one called American Medical Response (AMR).

Life Line and CAFMA have been embroiled in a public row over response times that dates back years.

Fire in the Prescott area and dispute between an ambulance company over response times

The firefighters believe that the response times of the private company are regularly too slow and that there are not enough ambulances in service.

So, in defiance of the state health department, CAFMA uses a fleet of its own unofficial ambulances, which it calls “Rescues”, to answer calls when firefighters feel Life Line units are too low. distant.

When asked if he regretted that his crew used a “rescue” on the baby’s near-drowning call, Freitag replied: “Not at all”.

In recent months, Life Line has started filing written complaints with the state health department against CAFMA for unapproved “rescue” transports, records show. (CAFMA has also filed over 1,000 complaints against Life Line over the years.)

As a result, the state issued several notices of investigation to CAFMA for numerous incidents dating back to the summer.

On one of the most recent notices, it is stated: “The complaint alleges that at the dates and places listed below, CAFMA inappropriately transported a patient when it was not medically necessary.”

The following is a list of 15 different appeals including near-drowning involving the baby.

In a written statement, a spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Health Services confirmed that they had sent several notices to CAFMA and initiated an investigation.

“ADHS also has an obligation to ensure that medical transport provided by entities that are not certified ambulance providers, including CAFMA, meet standards of medical necessity developed in the interest of health and public safety, “wrote ADHS spokesman Steve Elliott. “To date, ADHS has sent CAFMA three notices of investigation requesting additional information on the use of CAFMA rescue units to transport EMS patients. Nothing is implied in these requests, which will help ADHS determine if the transports were appropriate. “

(The full statement from the Department of Health on the issues surrounding Life Line and CAFMA can be found at the bottom of this report.)

ABC15 interviewed Life Line / AMR Regional Director John Valentine about these issues.

He denied having filed “complaints” with the state.

“So we don’t file complaints. What we do is if there’s an incident, and we answer a call, and show up to the scene, and their rescue is there, and they charge the patient, we can file an information (request) with the Department of Health Services to examine why they did not use our (ambulance), ”said Valentine.

Valentine added that Life Line was not necessarily opposed to CAFMA using “Rescues”.

“We are not against the fire department using rescues,” he said. “If there are suitable patients in urgent need of transport and they are there, use the rescue. “

Valentine told ABC15 that CAFMA’s public criticism of Life Line was misleading.

He took issue with how the baby’s near-drowning call was portrayed by the fire department as part of its social media campaign to highlight response times and ambulance service in the Prescott area.

“We were 12.7 miles from this incident. We were sent on this call immediately…. That’s probably, without Google searching for it, a 15 minute response time from our location. CAFMA also responded to this incident, ”said Valentine. “And about 13 minutes after the incident started, the battalion commander or captain, one of them, hijacked our unit to meet the helicopter. So we were about 3 minutes away from going to the scene and moving this patient to the hospital.

“I think it is the article which is misleading because it gives the impression that no ambulance is answering this call,” he said. “There was an ambulance that responded to this call.

But Freitag said every minute saved was worth it.

“We can’t wait 12 minutes. We cannot wait three more minutes at the scene if we have the opportunity to transport this child and bring him to where he needs to be, ”he said.

At the end of October, CAFMA officially filed a request with the state to operate its own ambulances. The ministry is also backing the request of another private company to add ambulances to the area.

But the application process takes at least a year. And it is not only CAFMA that raises problems.

Other fire departments and a local hospital have also filed complaints with the state and written letters in support of new and additional ambulance providers.

“The ministry investigated a number of these complaints and found us to be compliant,” Valentine said. “We are respecting our response times. “

The health service has confirmed that it has found Life Line compliant. However, the state said it was keeping an investigation into the case open to gather more information.

On the CAFMA side, Freitag does not hide from the State what his department is doing with its “Help”.

In fact, it essentially forces the question.

CAFMA now sends the state health department a weekly list of times it has used “rescues”.

“The state is watching us very carefully for what we do with our ‘rescues’,” Freitag said. “It’s not something they want to see. So to be totally transparent with the state, we send them a list and say this is what we transported, here is when, here is the incident report number, here is why we transported this patient.

Below is the full statement from the Arizona Department of Health Services:

“The state’s commitment to the health and safety of Arizona communities extends to its oversight of emergency medical service providers. We are aware of the concerns of the community and follow a process to ensure residents have access to reliable EMS transport. ADHS held meetings with stakeholders and worked with the region’s current certified ambulance provider (Life Line) to improve response times. This resulted in an amendment to the Life Line Certificate of Necessity finalized in early 2021. An administrative hearing is currently underway to determine whether an additional CON can be granted to a second ambulance provider (priority ambulance) to operate in the region. .

“Between late 2018 and mid-2021, the ADHS Office of Emergency Medical Services received and reviewed an EMS call log provided by CAFMA, which included over 1,000 calls spanning multiple years. ADHS has opened an investigation into the current ambulance provider (Life Line) to request additional information on any gaps in services or community needs. The investigation found that Life Line was in compliance with its improved ambulance response time requirements, which are measured over a 12-month period, as required by Arizona’s administrative code. However, the investigation remains open for the moment in order to gather more information.

“ADHS also has an obligation to ensure that medical transport provided by entities that are not certified ambulance providers, including CAFMA, meet standards of medical necessity developed in the interest of health and To date, ADHS has sent CAFMA three notices of inquiry requesting additional information on the use of CAFMA rescue units to transport EMS patients. in these requests, which will assist ADHS in determining whether transports were appropriate under ARS 36-2208 (B). ADHS is currently reviewing additional information recently submitted by CAFMA, and the status of the he investigation remains open.

“While we cannot release patient information, the Bureau is committed to working with EMS providers to ensure patients are transported safely to access emergency medical care. All parties agree that patients should have access to the right resources in the right amount of time. We have a deep respect for frontline workers, including those employed by Life Line, CAFMA and the region’s 911 system.

Contact ABC15 investigator Dave Biscobing at [email protected]

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