By Malcolm Butler
Tuesday night’s monthly Lincoln Parish Police Jury meeting turned into another debate over concerns about the direction of the parish’s ambulance and rescue services starting Jan. 1 when the current contract with the Ruston Fire Department ends.
Numerous parish residents showed up at Tuesday’s meeting to voice their displeasure over the decision by the LPPJ to vote against entering into a one-year, non-negotiable contract with the City of Ruston to provide ambulance and rescue service for parish residents through 2023.
Despite the Ambulance Service Committee’s 7-3 vote in favor of the $654,604 proposal from the city, the LPPJ voted 6-3 against the proposal during July’s meeting.
Thus, the LPPJ is now tasked with coming to terms on a contract with Pafford EMS to take over the ambulance service within Lincoln Parish (but outside of the Ruston City limits). However, even that contract is only half the battle. The Lincoln Parish Fire Department would be tasked with handling the emergency rescue aspect for the parish, something they are not equipped for.
The ambulance and rescue services agreement between the city of Ruston and Lincoln Parish stood at $30,000 annually for more than 20 years, until it recently increased to $120,000 for 2022.
A debate within the ranks of the LPPJ surfaced during the July meeting after a letter dated Jan. 31 emerged that advised of the police jury’s rejection of a proposal of $125,000 plus 5%, an offer that never reached the entire policy jury according to some members.
Policy jury member Logan Hunt questioned Durrett during the July meeting as to why they hadn’t seen this information.
“I can’t answer that right now,” Durrett told Hunt that night. “I’ll be glad after the meeting to discuss it with you. But we’re at this point, and we can’t go backward.”
Resident Chris Garriga was the first to address the policy jury Tuesday night during the public comments portion of the agenda for the August meeting.
“My concern is we had a $120,000 offer (for the city) to do fire and rescue that was given to Mr. (Melton) Milton, Mr. (Doug) Postel and Mr. (Richard) Durrett in April of 2021,” said Garriga. “That was 440 days ago that this option was presented in a 50-page binder from Chief (Chris) Womack. … The information Mr. Womack has is priceless. It is calls. It is volume. It is numbers. It is information that should have been given to every single juror at the beginning of last year.
“In December of 2021, Greg Pafford, the owner of the largest family-owned ambulance business in the country, met with the same gentlemen about ambulance options. He recommended that the board sign with the city before the city changed their mind because it was a great deal.”
Garriga was followed by four more parish residents, all addressing their feelings about the decision and the potential for a more expensive and possibly less efficient system starting in January.
Keith Newsome voiced a concern about the difference with ambulances containing paramedics vs. ambulances with EMTs, knowing that paramedics are certified to offer much more critical care services that could be the difference between an individual surviving the emergency on the way to the hospital.
“I am asking this board not to enter into a contract in haste,” said Newsome. “Call the Ruston Mayor. Call the chief of the fire department. Set up a meeting. Negotiate a contract that is acceptable to both parties. Don’t try to fix a problem that does not exist.”
But according to Lincoln Parish Policy Jury Administrator Doug Postel, the option of using the city was no longer on the table.
“I asked the Mayor if that was an option, and he consulted with the fire chief and the answer was no,” said Postel.
Shane Davis, the COO for Pafford in Louisiana and Mississippi, followed a short time later, clarifying some points about a possible contract between the parish and Pafford. He stated that an additional ambulance would be brought into Lincoln Parish (increasing the number servicing the parish to four … with the ability to have two more from adjoining parishes if needed). He also said that the ambulances would contain paramedics aboard them, and not EMTs.
The suggested cost of the additional ambulance for Lincoln Parish would allegedly be $360,000. Davis stated that Lincoln Parish would join Pafford’s existing system of emergency ambulance services. During the discussion of the contract that is still in the works, it was stated that Pafford would be willing to provide $50,000 to help with rescue equipment within the parish.
Perhaps an even bigger concern is the potential cost of the emergency rescue portion which would fall upon the Lincoln Parish Fire Department. A quote has not yet been received, but numerous jurors and residents expressed a concern about the potential cost for equipment, manpower and service.
“Lincoln Parish Fire as of today has not hired a single person to man a rescue squad,” said Garriga. “In 140 days, the parish is in the rescue business. In 140 days, Lincoln Parish Fire will be the people you call if you get in a wreck outside the city limits. I believe the jury has put the parish fire department in a tough situation.”
At the end of the night, emotions ran high.
“We didn’t have just a good system (in Lincoln Parish),” said Director of Homeland Security Kip Franklin. “We had the absolute best system. And now it’s gone forever.”
Garriga, who worked for Pafford for three years, concluded the public comments portion with high praise for Pafford’s ability to serve the Lincoln Parish community. But he also asked the jury to find out where the disconnect occurred on the initial offer from the city.
“Pafford does a great job. Ruston Fire does a great job. We had a great system until the ball was dropped somewhere,” said Garriga. “I implore that the jury figure out where this ball was dropped because our system is going to change.”