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A& E Emergency Services, LLC, based in Decherd, has approached the Estill Springs Board of Mayor and Aldermen about potentially becoming the city’s ambulance provider.
However, government leaders have not made a decision to move away from financially struggling Rural/Metro Corp.
Arizona-based Rural/Metro filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in August 2013, and eight employees left the company to find other jobs. Rural/Metro began its operations in Franklin County in 1996 and its services as the 911 operations first responder were approved in 2009. In addition to being Franklin County’s contracted ambulance service provider, Rural/Metro also is under contract with other cities in the area, including Estill Springs. Rural Metro has said it’s optimistic the company will recover from its financial predicament and continue with regular ambulance service while continuing to cut debt and reorganize under a bankruptcy court’s supervision. In the meantime, A & E, amid questions about Rural/ Metro’s standing, has approached Estill Springs and Coffee County about providing service. The company’s mission statement to the Estill Board explains A & E’s intentions.
“A & E Emergency Services would like to assist the City of Estill Springs by being able to adequately protect its community through emergency medical services as it continues to grow,” the statement says. “The company will accomplish this by offering an advanced life support ambulance service that will be used to provide the best care for the citizens of Estill Springs.”
Tina Smith, Estill Springs city record/finance officer, explained where the situation with A & E and Rural/Metro stands.
“The City Council has not made a decision on changing over to A & E,” she said. “We do have a contract with Rural Metro at the present time.
“Changing over to A & E was brought up at our last board meeting but was tabled so the board could review further. There doesn’t seem to be a city council member that is 100 percent for the change, and they all seem to have mixed feelings about changing over.”
While Estill has mixed feelings about changing ambulance providers, Coffee County has denied allowing A & E to provide service there where Coffee County EMS and Trans Med are the only providers with permits to operate.
After a lengthy appeals hearing during its March 20 meeting, the Coffee County Ambulance Authority voted 3-1 to deny permission for A&E to operate an ambulance service in Coffee County.
Despite substantial efforts to comply with county requirements on the part of A & E owner and paramedic Benjamin Smith, Authority members said they were still not convinced of his honesty and sincerity, based on his actions in the last six months.
The Authority had issued a temporary restraining order against the company in September, shortly after it began operating without a Coffee County permit. However, according to Authority members, he “willfully ignored the restraining order and continued to operate anyway.”
Smith said he did not know at the time that any permit or license was needed. He said he was already certified by the state and was unaware that he needed any additional or specific permission to operate in Coffee County.
While Smith admitted he should have communicated better and that he had been wrong not to heed the terms of the restraining order, he explained that he did not fully understand all the laws governing his business because he is new at it and still in a learning curve.
He also said that his state licensing representative had given him the impression that it was okay to operate in Coffee County as long as he did not “stage” there, which meant that he could not park the ambulance somewhere in the county and wait for calls to come.
“I didn’t know I needed to contact anyone, “he said. “As soon as I got the letter, I took steps to comply, and that’s why I’m before you now.
“I admit that I screwed up, and I can see now that I should have done things differently, but I’ve taken all the steps and I’m in full compliance with the (licensing) resolution at this point, and I assure you there will not be any more of these kinds of issues in the future.”
Despite his assurances, however, Coffee County Attorney Bob Huskey continued to question Smith’s past actions.
“You saw that the letter clearly says, ‘no other service (besides the ones permitted) may operate without permission,’ and since you didn’t have it, you needed to stop,” Huskey said.
Smith’s attorneys then made their final pleas on their client’s behalf, but to no avail.
Coffee County Commissioner Rennie Bell then made the motion not to allow A&E to operate in Coffee County. Ann Frisby seconded, and the vote passed with Fann as the only dissenting vote.
It was then determined between the attorneys that there was nothing to prevent Smith from applying again, and that the legislation only states that no one could apply more than twice in a 12-month period.
Huskey stated he would interpret that to mean no more than once every six months, to allow a reasonable amount of time to pass before applying again.