The Menlo Park Fire Protection District board on April 16 expressed its objections to an Emergency Medical System Joint Powers Agreement and an ambulance contract with San Mateo County following a brief opportunity to take a look at the deals.
Board members think that both deals, which would last for 10 years each, are being rushed through with little or no input from county fire agencies.
American Medical Response (AMR) was the only bidder for the ambulance contract, but the proposed contract was sprung on county fire chiefs with no input and only one day to review it before it came before the county Board of Supervisors for a vote on April 9, said Menlo Park district Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman.
The supervisors tabled the proposed agreement at the urging of four county fire chiefs, according to fire board President Virginia Chang Kiraly.
Fire board members are objecting to a number of elements in the contract, particularly that the AMR ambulances will not carry some of the advanced lifesaving equipment that the fire district possesses, including a $100,000 machine that provides a power-assisted heart massage during a cardiac arrest.
"We have equipment that AMR doesn't have, which our taxpayers have paid for," Chang Kiraly said. "AMR should move up to our standard of care."
The county would receive an extra $500,000 as part of the proposed contract that it negotiated with AMR that isn't available to individual agencies, said board member Chuck Bernstein.
"Under the contract we also have no idea what AMR is charging residents," Bernstein said. "The county is giving them a monopoly.
Board member Rob Silano said that AMR has an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security, which could require the company to provide ambulances anywhere in the country in the event of a national emergency, leaving San Mateo County without service for a period of time.
The Joint Powers Authority agreement is also unpopular with the board for several reasons, including the fact that fire board members believe the JPA board includes an unfair distribution of voting power.
Districts such as the one that includes San Carlos, Belmont and Foster City get three members on the board; Menlo Park, which also includes three cities — Menlo Park, East Palo Alto and Atherton — gets only one vote.
There are also objections to so-called automatic aid, which requires agencies within the JPA to send personnel and equipment automatically into other jurisdictions when help is needed.
The Menlo Park district would prefer to negotiate mutual aid agreements with other departments at its discretion rather than be locked into a mandate that includes only San Mateo County.
Board member Chuck Bernstein favors withdrawing from the JPA, which would enable the district to negotiate a mutual aid agreement with Palo Alto in Santa Clara County.
Since the Menlo Park district is at the southern end of the county, it makes sense to have mutual aid arrangements with fire agencies to the south instead of being locked into automatic aid within the county, Bernstein said.