Representatives from American Medical Response, which provides ambulance services to Murrieta, asked City Council members for an apology Tuesday.
They alleged misleading and "false" statements about AMR employees were made during a March 6 City Council workshop for residents.
Murrieta Fire Chief Matt Shobert is recommending the optional fee to recoup costs he says are spent providing paramedic services. Shobert said the Fire Department is getting a return of about 30 percent of materials used during calls when Murrieta firefighter/paramedics arrive on scene prior to AMR.
AMR Operations Manager Jim Price said he watched a video playback of the City Council discussion and was disheartened by some of the statements made.
"It seems it is OK for us to participate in washing toilets but it is not OK to participate in Thanksgiving dinners," Price said, as ambulance crews rent space at Murrieta fire stations.
"It is OK if you guys want to attack AMR and it is OK to attack me but it is not OK to attack the fine men and women who do the same work you do to protect our community," Price said.
Supported by fellow uniformed workers who sat in the audience, AMR paramedic and Murrieta resident Shelly Hudelson approached the Council. Hudelson brought up a statement made by Councilman Randon Lane in which he said AMR was committing "fraud" by recouping fees for work provided by Murrieta firefighter/paramedics.
"How can AMR charge for services we are providing and it not be considered fraud?" Lane said during the March 6 workshop.
Hudelson said she took his statement to mean that AMR paramedics were inferior to Murrieta crews.
"Two weeks ago you made misleading and false allegations of fraud," Hudelson said. "...You talked about response times and an unacceptable level of care...You used words like 'our guys are experts and more trained.' The fact is some of your guys were trained by these guys. They went to the same schools and took the same training.
"I am glad my fire department strives for excellence, but if you need to state that (this fee) is for training and equipment and fuel, please do so but not by insulting professionals who run twice as many calls per day.
"We ask for an apology from the City Council."
Because the issue was not on the Council agenda, Council members said they could not immediately respond to AMR's concerns.
During a portion in which they can address the public, however, Lane clarified his allegation of "fraud."
"I made it very clear that my comments were not dealing with actual illegal things AMR was trying to do," Lane said. "My concern was and is the rules in which our system is being handled. It is more (because of) the county that we have a monopoly in our system. AMR operates under those rules. I disagree with those rules by the county. I do not believe AMR is doing anything intentionally illegal but I do have grave concern and I will continue to lobby..."
Lane was referring to the city of Murrieta's request that the Riverside County Board of Supervisors Under a long-held county contract, AMR must arrive to emergency medical response calls within nine minutes, 59 seconds—something Murrieta officials have said they are not satisfied with.
The issue was scheduled to be discussed again by the Board of Supervisors March 13, but was taken off the agenda.
Councilman Alan Long, who is a battalion chief for the Anaheim Fire Department, said he has never made comments directed at AMR employees.
"I am not going to back down on anything I've said about the system," Long said. "Our system is redundant; it is also 15-20 years behind other counties. That needs to be fixed...A contract that has not been bid out for over three decades need to go out to bid. No where in there is anything directed at the employees."
When asked about AMR's statements made to City Council, Fire Chief Matt Shobert said they "did not merit a response."
Murrieta Firefighter/Paramedic Dean Hale spoke of good relationships with AMR employees. He said he knows of former AMR employees who chose to leave because of the way the organization was ran.
"Those are their words not mine," Hale said. "I have cooked Thanksgiving dinner—where they don’t pay for food, it comes out of my pocket. We have meals waiting for them but they never return. We respect the paramedics we work with..."
Hale said a law that was passed in 1983 required fire departments to staff trained paramedics.
"Because ambulances weren't doing their job, firefighter/paramedics were required to step up and do the job," Hale said.
The city continues to further discuss starting the . Residents who pay a $48 annual fee would not be billed for paramedic calls, but those who do not could be charged $350 per occurrence. Businesses could enroll in the program based on the number of employees.
Murrieta resident Jacqueline Fenaroli told City Council she opposed the fee.
"...A fire engine is an expensive and a redundant service when an ambulance will show up shortly....there are other better and cheaper ways to accomplish this," Fenaroli said.
She encouraged an open bid process, or even allowing multiple ambulance companies to compete to get to emergencies quickest.
"With our high unemployment rate and our (living) expenses...the citizens of Murrieta can not bear this tax. I would urge the Council to put it to a vote and see it the citizens really want it because this citizen doesn’t," Fenaroli said.