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Competitors challenge Decatur EMS
City Council planning to consider applications for ambulance service

By Evan Belanger 340-2442

The next time Decatur residents hear the siren of an ambulance, it might not belong to the city's established ambulance company, Decatur Emergency Medical Services.

Competing ambulance services are challenging the local company's monopoly on emergency calls inside the city limits.

Decatur-based Med-Call Ambulance and Montgomery-based LifeStar Response of Alabama have both applied for local licenses — called a certificate of public necessity and convenience or CPNC.

The City Council will consider the applications during a called meeting at 4 p.m. Monday in the council chambers of City Hall.

If approved, the CNPCs will allow the two companies to rotate with Decatur EMS in responding to emergency calls.

Historically, the council, at the recommendation of the city's Emergency Management Services Committee, has denied all applications from would-be competitors.

But this week at least one councilman says it's time for that practice to change.

According to District 5 Councilman Ray Metzger, if one or both of the applications are approved, the resulting multi-provider system will likely improve services by breeding competition and eliminating complacency.

Metzger, owner of a motorcycle shop, says a monopoly for an ambulance service is no different from any other monopoly.

"If all the other motorcycle shops shut down and I had the only one, I wouldn't have to work as hard, would I?" he said. "I think we've had enough of this one-ambulance thing."

But some city officials say a multi-ambulance system could cause problems.

According to Mayor Don Kyle, the council denies CNPC applications from alternate providers to ensure the city's ambulance provider remains financially stable.

He said cities with multiple providers have been forced to subsidize their ambulance companies when there were not enough emergency calls to support them.

"The experts tell me Decatur still does not have enough emergency calls to support more than one ambulance service," he said.

According to District 4 Councilman Ronny Russell, Monday's special meeting is partially related to a two-year application process, seeking alternatives to Decatur EMS.

In 2005, the city's Emergency Management Services Committee began requesting proposals from several ambulance services, including Decatur EMS.

Of the six companies that applied, Decatur EMS was ranked last by an EMS Committee subpanel.

That search process ended when Decatur EMS raised legal questions.

Attempts to contact Decatur EMS officials Tuesday were unsuccessful.

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