Menlo Park fire board criticizes JPA, county ambulance agreements


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.

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


11 people like this
Posted by Harold Schapelhouman, Fire Chief
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Apr 24, 2019 at 10:47 am

For clarity - The proposed Ambulance Agreement issues stem from how the County EMS Agency has handled the process and contract roll-out and terms, not how AMR has performed or partnered with local Fire Agencies these last ten years. I understand the concern around what people are billed but from a system performance and actual service to the customer side, AMR and their employees have done a very good job.

Only one Director believes Mutual Aid is the answer and a proposal to leave the EMS JPA initiated by that same Director was voted down. Our system, agreements and partnership have served us well for 22 years but needs to be changed and updated. Everyone is allowed their opinion and should be heard, but to only include one Directors opinion, is not inclusive of the whole and reflective of the entire Fire Board and Chiefs views, discussion and feedback. I suggest concerned residents watch the meeting on YouTube or attend the Board meetings in person.

Partnerships that better serve the public are very important. Looking forward to the next ten years requires a methodical approach, not rushed for time but equally involving dialogue and collaboration. Automatic Aid, which binds the system participants together, can be modified and improved for all, if handled correctly.

The Fire Board should be commended for publicly discussing these important issues, the health and well being of our residents and customers hangs in the balance. Equally, the Board of Supervisors and County Manager have allowed for more time, that time has been critical to better understand these complex, multi-faceted and tied together issues.

I appreciate the Almanac covering this important story, my comments are not meant to criticize but to clarify a very complex web of interlocking agreements, partnerships and processes put together to better serve the community. What we do, how we do it and what we do next is critically important to serving the sick and injured over the next ten years. I suggest people pay attention to this subject because it will affect emergency services directly to you, your families, friends and businesses over the next decade.

Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman
Menlo Park Fire Protection District

Service before Self
Protection of life, property and the environment through high quality Emergency First Response Services

4 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 24, 2019 at 11:43 pm

It should be noted that only one Fire Board Member wanted to withdraw from the JPA causing an unbalance in the entire public safety response method. All the others, wanted to work with the other jurisdictions to form a fair and better JPA.

Mr. Bernstein,
Please get it.... San Mateo County wants to work as a team. Teamwork works, get on board.

9 people like this
Posted by Who's Driving the Ambulance
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Apr 25, 2019 at 9:19 am

Who's Driving the Ambulance is a registered user.

San Mateo County government is often sclerotic, ossified and self-serving. Good for Mr. Bernstein to stand up and challenge the status quo. When you get a bill for $2500, not covered by your health insurance, perhaps you will understand the larger issues at play. There are several operating models guiding ambulance service around the country, don’t assume we have the best one.

10 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 25, 2019 at 9:30 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Whose driving" did not read the article carefully - the entire Board is unhappy with the current JPA and four of the Board members want a new JPA which reflects current realities.

Only Bernstein wants to go it alone - a historical backward position given the proven value and importance of mutual aid agreements.

10 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 25, 2019 at 3:05 pm

None of the current directors has any fire or EMS experience; previous directors did. Understanding that this industry works better as a team doesn't mean you leave the team; it means you look for ways to correct what's not working and improve it.

As the Fire Chief pointed out, the structure and representation of the JPA hasn't evolved in the same ways that the fire agencies have in the county. Time to correct the structure and representation not throw it all away.

When the disaster comes, you don't want to be working all by yourself.

25 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 25, 2019 at 3:11 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 16, 2019 at 6:31 am
Peter Carpenter is a registered user.
The purpose of any JPA is to better serve the residents of the Fire District. The current JPA no longer does this and it should be abandoned and replaced with a new JPA that reflects the current realities.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Su Hong Palo Alto's last day of business will be Sept. 29
By Elena Kadvany | 19 comments | 5,906 views

Premarital, Women Over 50 Do Get Married
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,856 views

Electric Buses: A case study
By Sherry Listgarten | 2 comments | 1,676 views

Natural Wines?
By Laura Stec | 2 comments | 1,654 views

Stay a part of their day
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 607 views


Register now!

On Friday, October 11, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

More Info