A review of three bids submitted to the Baker County Commission for a contract to provide ambulance services in Baker City and about half of the rest of the county will be the subject of public hearings in the coming months.
In the meantime, the president of the Baker City Professional Firefighters Local 922 has posted a letter on Facebook aimed at detailing the issue for people who would receive the service once the contract is awarded.
Jason Jacobs, president of the firefighters union, said the Facebook post was intended to provide information to county residents.
“It’s just letting everybody know what’s going on,” Jacobs, a lieutenant at the Baker City fire station, said in a telephone interview Thursday.
The union represents 12 firefighters. Another four employees are part of the command staff and are not represented by the union, Jacobs said.
The county received three bids for providing ambulance service in an area that includes Baker City and about half of the county. In addition to the Baker City Fire Department, bids were submitted by Med Transport Inc. of North Powder and Metro West Ambulance Inc., a Hillsboro firm.
Jacobs begins his Facebook post with this statement: “Your Baker City Firefighters need your assistance! Baker County Commissioners have decided to place your safety up for bid.”
He details the city fire department’s history, dating back to the early 1900s, and continuing to present day. The department provides combined fire and medical service to the 1,600-square-mile Baker Ambulance Service (BSA).
“Not only are your firefighters the paramedics on every ambulance in the Baker ASA, they are also all-hazard first responders, trained specifically for multiple disasters and emergencies,” Jacobs stated. “We provide community education, prevention services, outreach and host community courses.”
Revenue from ambulance runs constitutes about 44% of the fire department’s budget, and is vital to keeping the department staffed so it can serve the community, Jacobs wrote.
If county commissioners award the contract to one of the private firms, the Baker City Fire Department would immediately lose up to six of its 16 positions, he wrote.
Jacobs said the well-trained fire department staff believes that while the county might save money by contracting ambulance service, savings would not outweigh the loss of the response capability that is currently provided.
Jacobs asked county residents to consider the other services provided by the Baker City Fire Department staff in addition to transporting patients to and from hospitals as contracted ambulance service workers would do.
“The rest is left up to an unfunded fire department decimated by the political will of a County Commission whose entry into Ambulance system oversight is short-sighted, economically risky and not informed good policy,” Jacobs wrote.
He pointed out that a three-year federal grant, supplemented by a $99,000 contribution from the county, will continue to pay for three Baker City firefighters hired in 2017 until Jan. 1, 2021.
The city has not yet identified money sources to keep those three fighters on staff beyond the end of 2020.
“That staffing reduction means a potential for increased response times, not enough paramedics to respond to the community’s needs in an emergency and the potential for increased fire insurance.”
Jacobs said firefighters are asking residents to make their opinions known to county leaders.
A committee is being formed to work through the contract-award process and will be conducting public meetings in the coming months, Jason Yencopal, the county’s emergency service director, said Thursday.
According to the request for proposals, the 10-year-minimum ambulance service contract is expected to be awarded by about June 1, 2020.
The final award date might change as the process continues, Yencopal said.