NLV Fire Department seeks more ambulance duties to save jobs

In an effort to save Fire Department jobs, the financially struggling city of North Las Vegas is considering changing the way emergency patients get to the hospital.

The Fire Department wants to transport more patients to hospitals itself instead of turning them over to private ambulance services. The department then could bill insurance companies for the service.

The change would produce revenue for the city and "hopefully prevent the loss of some of our fire service folks," Fire Chief Al Gillespie said.

But such revenue shouldn't come at the expense of private business, said John Wilson, local general manager of the private ambulance service that transports most of North Las Vegas' emergency patients.

The city "is trying to fix their budget shortfall by taking revenue and jobs from the private sector and shifting it to the public sector to minimize the impact on public employees," Wilson said. "This is sending the wrong message to the business community."

Now, most emergency ambulance calls in North Las Vegas are handled by American Medical Response and MedicWest, both of which are owned by the same parent company, Emergency Medical Services Corp.

The Fire Department would like to assume emergency transport services for all 911 "delta level" patients -- the most seriously sick or injured -- and all traffic accident patients in the city, Gillespie said.

The chief estimated that if the change is adopted, the department would go from transporting about 25 patients each month to 375. It would net about $1.6 million per year for the city, he said.

The City Council plans to discuss the matter at a special 4:30 p.m. meeting today. Other options also will be weighed:

■ Allowing the department to start transporting all 911 patients in the city.

■ Canceling the existing private ambulance provider's franchise agreement and establishing a competitive bidding process for transport services.

■ Continuing with the status quo, in which AMR and MedicWest handle most emergency ambulance calls.

The Fire Department doesn't wish to take over all emergency calls or get rid of AMR and MedicWest, Gillespie said.

"This whole deal is not to hurt ambulance companies," he said. "It's to provide good service to citizens and recover some costs for what we do."

The proposed change would represent only a small percentage of business for AMR and MedicWest, Gillespie said.

But Wilson said the company might have to lay off at least a dozen employees if the change is adopted. He questioned how much the city would take in if it began transporting more patients.

"How can you take on additional work and not think that expenses are going to rise?" he asked.

Gillespie said the cost would be minimal because the Fire Department already responds to 911 emergency calls. It simply would stop "handing them (patients) off to someone else."

The actual costs and revenues associated with such a change have been "a challenge to identify," said Maryann Ustick, North Las Vegas' acting city manager. "There's been a number of estimates of what the actual revenue would be."

Today's meeting was meant to be a work session during which the council members could examine and ask questions about the Fire Department's estimates, Ustick said. But because of concerns raised by AMR and MedicWest, the meeting probably will concern the "policy issue" of "what do we do in terms of potential impact on" private ambulance services, she said.

Henderson's Fire Department handles almost all of its own emergency transports. AMR and MedicWest handle about 80 percent of the emergency transports in Las Vegas, Wilson said.

North Las Vegas, which has undergone five rounds of budget cuts since December 2008, must trim an additional $33.4 million to make it through fiscal year 2011. The city announced this month it might have to cut up to 273 jobs -- 21 of them from the Fire Department.

Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at or 702-383-0285.