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Fire chief criticizes ambulance response times in Prescott Valley

A rural fire chief is criticizing ambulance company AMR, saying their ambulances take too long to respond or aren't available to respond at all.

PRESCOTT, Ariz. — Chief Scott Freitag doesn't want to wait. 

And when it comes to an ambulance, he doesn't think you should either. 

"We've had concerns with ambulance response for six years," Freitag said. 

Freitag is the chief of the Central Arizona Fire and Medical Authority, a small fire district that covers areas around Prescott and Prescott Valley. It serves about 150,000 people over 400 square miles.

And he said he's seeing ambulance times go as long as 45 minutes. 

Other times, Freitag said, there are no ambulances available at all, a condition called "Level Zero." From July 2 to Oct. 12, 2021, Freitag said he counted 400 times there were no ambulances available for his district. 

"And what AMR will say to that is, 'Yeah, but that's only for a few minutes,'" Freitag said. "We'll get one available. Is one ambulance okay for 156,000 people?”

AMR is the company that Central AZ Fire and Medical has to contract with for ambulance service. It's the only company approved by the state to operate in that area, so there's no other option. 

It's gotten so bad, Freitag said, that his first responders have had to transport patients in personal cars and fire engines to get them to the hospital faster. He's borrowed three "rescue" trucks from other Arizona departments and had to use them to transport patients. 

But AMR claims Freitag is demanding too much, and the company's response times are where they should be. 

"[we're] reviewed by the Department of Health Services," John Valentine with AMR said, "and we've been compliant in all those areas in the Prescott-Prescott Valley area."

ADHS confirmed to 12 News that AMR's response times are within the standards set for the area. 

As for the times when there are no ambulances available, Valentine said that's bound to happen. 

“In every EMS system from the Phoenix Valley to Prescott to more rural areas," Valentine said, "when there's surges in response requests do go to level zero."

But Freitag said this goes beyond surges and it started well before the COVID-19 pandemic.

And when the district transported patients on its own, without waiting for an ambulance, AMR asked the state to investigate. ADHS sent the district a notice that it wanted more information about whether Freitag's department was essentially running an unlicensed ambulance company. 

The battle between Central AZ Fire and AMR has been going for years, with no agreement in sight. 

Freitag said his department has petitioned the state to be allowed to run its own ambulances.

ADHS tells 12 News that process is ongoing. 

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