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Fire chief is taking fight over ambulance response times in Prescott Valley to the state Capitol

A reform bill will soon be introduced to help Prescott Valley and nearby areas with what an officials said are slow response times when ambulances are needed.

PRESCOTT VALLEY, Ariz. — A fight between emergency responders could soon head to the state Legislature.

The Central Arizona Fire and Medical Authority Chief Scott Freitag said a reform bill will soon be introduced to help Prescott Valley and surrounding areas with what he calls slow response times when ambulances are needed.

“We are not trying to add new regulation,” Freitag said. “We are simply asking for them to be an oversight in the system.”

For the last six years, the chief said a private company, American Response/LifeLine Ambulance, that operates in Prescott Valley has not provided enough resources and has had lengthy response times when sending help to patients during emergencies.

“Between July 1st and December 31st, there were 760 instances of no ambulances available for calls,” he said.

AMR is currently the only ambulance service authorized by the state to operate in the area. When an ambulance is needed, CAFMA must contact AMR.

Freitag claims the ambulance company has failed to respond to emergencies at an adequate time, forcing crews to transport patients on backup ambulances they call ‘rescues,’ in fire engines or even in personal cars.

Wait times for an ambulance can vary from 10 minutes to up to an hour and a half, the chief said.

“We are dealing with a situation where on a daily basis we are looking at level zero or no ambulances available an average of six times a day,” Freitag said.

By taking up the matter to state legislators, the chief hopes the state’s Department of Health Services, who reviews ambulance service licenses, will evaluate how such companies operate.

ADHS has confirmed to 12 News in the past that AMR’s response times are within the standards set for the area.

But Freitag said the current response times are self-monitored.

“If they don’t arrive on the scene, they don’t have to report that regarding their ability to perform… so if they don’t have an ambulance and don’t show up, they don’t log that,” the chief said.

In a statement, a spokesperson for American Medical Response/LifeLine Ambulance said the company complies with staffing requirements and said it has provided additional assets when local EMS resources are oversaturated.

“Like many healthcare and emergency medical service providers, we are seeing the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on both staffing and response capabilities,” the statement said.

CAFMA is asking Gov, Doug Ducey to give them an emergency declaration to operate under temporary authority as an ambulance service. They have also filed to operate ambulances to the state.

CAFMA is borrowing three ambulances it is using as ‘rescues’ from the Mesa Fire Department, North West out of Tucson, and Sun City Fire Departments. Freitag said they have allocated funds and purchased three new rescues, and one used one, that will be in service by March.

“Our focus is patient care,” Freitag said. “We need to get patients who call 911 from the scene to their definitive care as soon as we can and more needs to be done to address the shortages in our area.”

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A life saved

It was supposed to be a fun time giving her grandchildren a bath. But it turned into a nightmare for Loraine Johnson.

“She was not breathing, she had no heartbeat, she was basically dead,” the grandmother said about baby Lily.

Johnson was giving Lily and her twin sister, Luna, along with their baby brother a bath. The girls were eight months old at the time. But as the grandmother left the bathroom for a few minutes, Lily went underwater.

Johnson began doing CPR and called 911, but Lily was in cardiac arrest.

“We got her heart back and she was breathing, but completely unresponsive,” the grandmother said.

Central Arizona Fire and Medical Authority crews arrived on the scene and began treating baby Lily, but the nearest ambulance was 12 minutes away.

“Our crew had the rescue with them,” said Freitag. “They opted to go ahead and transport baby Lily to the landing zone where a helicopter was waiting to take her down to Phoenix Children’s Hospital.”

After about a week at the hospital, Lily was back home.

“They literally saved her life, a miracle, there was no damage to her mentally, no water in her lungs, nothing,” Johnson said.

It was that fast action decision of opting to transport baby Lily in a ‘rescue’ instead of waiting the 12 minutes for an ambulance that the grandmother said saved the toddler's life.

“If they had not made that call, we might have had Lily, it would have been a birthday with just one twin,” the grandmother said.

On their first birthday, the twins got individualized birthday cakes and visited CAFMA crew members at their station to thank them for saving her life.

“We’re far from where LifeLine is,” Johnson said. “So, they need these rescues in order to service this community.”

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