Cutting Deer Park Ambulance Services

Deer Park Ambulance in Settlers Day parade.

File Photo: Deer Park Ambulance passes in front of Fire Station #41 as part of the Deer Park Settlers Day parade.

Ambulance services are in growing demand as more people move into the area.  A surprise to many, Fire District 4 has ended the contract with Deer Park Volunteer Ambulance (DPA) for North Spokane County. 

A new contract has been established with a for-profit company American Medical Response (AMR), which primarily has ambulances based out of Spokane. One AMR ambulance and crew will be located at Deer Park Fire Station #41 and is expected to start by January 15th. The DPA located in Deer Park will not be dispatched in North Spokane County except for extreme circumstances when mutual aid is called for. Also, the DPA ambulance at Spokane County Fire District #4 (SCFD4) Station #46 in Riverside will no longer be there after the current contract ends in February.

Fire Chief Neckels described the problem, “…as time went on that just more and more demand more and more challenge, more and more instances where Deer Park Ambulance wasn’t able to provide the level of service that we needed.” 

DPA Executive Director Brian Barton said, “in May, there [were] basically 14 staff members covering 24/7, we bumped that coverage up to about 40.” Barton added that “Deer Park Ambulance was looking at two ambulances, and they were gonna buy them and the fire district bought one.”

Response Time & Ambulance Locations
Currently, Deer Park Ambulance keeps three ambulances ready 24/7. The three vehicles are spread around the area with one in each Deer Park, Riverside, and Suncrest. Whenever the ambulance in Deer Park is called away, one of the other two will fill its spot at the DPA office. The one at Riverside will probably be relocated to Springdale or Loon Lake as a result of the contract ending. Consequently,  response times for DPA in Riverside and Elk could increase up to 40 minutes. 

While there will only be one AMR ambulance in Deer Park located at the fire station, when it is called out, a replacement will be sent from Spokane to Deer Park to stand by for additional calls.

Regarding the impact on response time, Chief Neckels said, “When you split it out, I’m anticipating an improvement in response not a decline.”

In times of high demand, if AMR is not available, DPA will still be called on. Regarding DPA, Chief Neckels said, “…as long as they’re licensed in Spokane County, they have an obligation to respond within Spokane County.” 

Without the contract with SCFD4, it might not be sustainable for Deer Park Ambulance to remain in Deer Park.

Also impacting response times is emergency rooms diverting ambulances that are enroute with patients. Emergency rooms are again nearing capacity, leading to delays in ambulances returning to the Deer Park area after a transport. “…in general health care in the entire region has been overtaxed, [there are] not enough medics. There’s not enough EMTs. There’s not enough people to cover the region…” Barton indicated this as a root cause of the wider problem.

Chief Neckles reminded that “If they need response they should call 911 and the 911 dispatch will send the most appropriate unit.”

Conflicting Viewpoints
Interviewed the same day, both Neckels and Barton referenced the same series of events that took place that day as an example of the problem. However, their viewpoints and details provided differ drastically. 

According to Barton, during one hour, there were seven calls for ambulance transport services in the area of Spokane & Stevens counties which is currently covered by Deer Park Ambulance. Four of those were transported by DPA and only one was transported by Medic 40, the SCFD4 ambulance. Another one was transported by AMR after 20 minutes. The last call was canceled. Barton’s conclusion was that the area population is rapidly growing and with it, the need and demand for ambulance coverage that DPA is working to meet.

Neckels, stated that there were four calls in Fire District #4. AMR transported three  (one of which was outside of the area normally covered by DPA). One was transported by SCFD4 Medic 40. Neckles’s conclusion is that Deer Park Ambulance is failing to meet the demand and the other ambulances services are required to pick up the slack.

Staffing Issues
Many area businesses have struggled with staffing. Most of the staff at Deer Park Ambulance are paid full time. Hiring and training requires a constant effort for all of the local emergency medical service providers. DPA has created its own training center to ensure that the area has the EMTs needed. 

Deer Park Volunteer Ambulance Board
In the past SCFD4 has had a representative on the DPA board, most recently held by Deputy Chief Gino Palomino. The DPA board has not met since notice of the contract termination. There is a level of uncertainty regarding the position, but it will likely be modified.

EMS Transport License
The SCFD4 has also pursued its own ambulance services with the acquisition of an ambulance in 2021. However because they have not been issued an EMS Transport license, the Fire District can only transport if no other ambulances are available and the situation is urgent. As a result the Fire District can not bill for transportation services if used. 

Issuing EMS licenses is the responsibility of the Spokane County EMS & Trauma Care Council (EMS Office). Recently the council decided not to add any additional EMS Transport licenses. Representatives from SCFD4, DPA, and AMR are on the council along with other emergency medical services providers that are licensed by the group. EMS Office is a quasi-governmental organization contracted with the Washington State Department of Health.

DPA has a Transport license in both Spokane and Steven counties.

Events DPA Board & Fire District Commissioners
For important issues like this, you can make your voice heard, talk with your elected fire district commissioners and attend the board meetings.

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