Grand Lake Fire nixes request for ambulance transport license |

Grand Lake Fire nixes request for ambulance transport license

Equipment sits ready to go at the Grand Lake Fire Department. The Grand Lake Fire board sent county commissioners a letter on Jan. 15 withdrawing the fire protection district’s request for an ambulance transport license.
Sky-Hi News file photo

The Grand Lake Fire Protection District has abandoned a voter-approved effort to run its own EMS transports as the department and county officials re-evaluate how that service might be provided.

In a Jan. 15 letter to Grand County commissioners, Grand Lake Fire withdrew its request for an ambulance transport license after an application sat in limbo with the county for almost two years.

Voters in the Grand Lake Fire Protection District approved a ballot measure in 2019 raising taxes that would, in part, fund an emergency medical response program with ambulance services for Grand Lake. The ballot measure raised taxes for the district by $380,000 in 2020 and up to $495,000 annually thereafter.

This means that residents in the Grand Lake Fire district are currently paying a tax to both the fire district and the county for EMS.

While Grand Lake Fire has been able to upgrade its EMS capabilities thanks to that mill levy, it cannot transport patients without approval from the county. Grand Lake Fire submitted the application for an ambulance license in 2019. Except for a county commissioners’ workshop in June 2019, no action was taken to move the license forward.

Speaking with Grand Lake trustees during an October town board meeting in Grand Lake, Commissioners Rich Cimino and Merrit Linke explained that removing Grand Lake from Grand EMS’s coverage would not make financial sense for the county as a whole.

“We don’t want to shoot ourselves in the foot by granting a license then all of the sudden (the rest of Grand County) has to reduce service because we’re hurt financially,” Linke said.

Cimino explained that ambulance service is “a business” that makes money off of its responses, and that money supports resources spread out across the county.

He said that Grand EMS provides services just outside the Grand Lake Fire District, and those areas would still need to be covered if Grand Lake Fire got its own EMS transport license.

The example that came up was Rocky Mountain National Park, which is not inside the Grand Lake Fire District and would require Grand EMS to remain stationed in the northern part of the county. Commissioners feared what could happen if the coverage area for Grand EMS remained largely the same with Grand Lake Fire handling EMS transports inside the district.

“If you get less calls, you get less collections,” Cimino said. “We would have the same responsibilities and zero reductions, in our opinion, because we’re not able to stop covering north Grand County.”

Commissioners acknowledged Grand Lake’s desire to improve EMS response times, and Cimino and Linke both said they were in favor of a more collaborative approach to get it done.

“We can find a way to make your tax dollars result in improved service,” Cimino told Grand Lake trustees.

On Wednesday, Grand Lake Fire Board President David Craig said there were a couple of reasons why the board withdrew the application for the ambulance transport license. For one, Craig explained that the way the application was submitted doesn’t “accurately characterize” the service Grand Lake Fire wants to provide.

Interim Fire Chief Seth St. Germain and Grand EMS Chief Robert Good are working to create a plan that benefits all agencies and taxpayers, according to the letter sent to the county. Craig added that a first phase agreement is already in place.

“We’re moving toward a phase two, which would more than likely have us operating under (Grand EMS’s) license,” he said.

Craig explained that this system would work with Grand EMS and be more fiscally responsible for Grand Lake Fire as well.

Grand Lake Fire has been working to cut expenses since this summer when the board identified issues with the department’s spending, strained by new equipment purchases, the COVID-19 response and increasing ambulance services within the district. No other fire districts in Grand County offer ambulance services.

Linke said on Tuesday that he believes the collaborative approach will be the most beneficial for everyone in Grand County, especially those living in Grand Lake.

“I think what the citizens of Grand Lake want more than anything is better and more efficient service (and) shorter call times,” Linke said. “I think all those things are in the works in terms of how that can be done collaboratively rather than somebody going off and doing something independently.”

Grand Lake Fire is still working out the details as the department continues to improve service and raise the standard of care offered by the department, Craig said.

“While we have identified and put in place some really good steps in terms of care and so on, there still are some other things that are being figured out,” Craig added. “I would hate for people to just think it’s a done deal.”

Grand Lake Fire hopes to outline the operation plans to the county once work is finalized.

— Sky-Hi News Editor Eli Pace contributed to this report.

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