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City looks at privitizing ambulance services

By Rachel Lippmann, St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis – The city of St. Louis is considering turning its emergency medical services over to private companies in an effort to close a $45 million budget deficit.

It costs the city about $13 million to operate the ambulances, but collections total around $8 million.

The city is looking for billing companies that could guarantee a certain level of revenue a year. But officials are also considering turning ambulance service in the city over to private companies.

Such a move would not change the first responders to an emergency, said deputy mayor Barb Geisman. A fire truck would still go to every 911 call.

"Firefighters are able to deliver basic levels of emergency medical service, and then the ambulance follows up with the fire truck and provides higher levels of service," she said. It would be the follow-up ambulance that would be owned by a private company.

The president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 73, Chris Molitor, called the proposal "disturbing." His members currently train together, he said, which came in handy when a porch collapsed in south St. Louis.

"We had ever one of those patients off the scene and en route to a hospital within 20 minutes, and that's a very big accomplishment," he said. "That's not something that would be easily done when you have private ambulances responding and personnel that you're not familiar with."

City ambulances also have equipment that private ambulance companies cannot afford, Molitor said.

City officials have not made any decision about the course they will take, Geisman said. But she said the city has to look at all ways to close the gap in the fiscal year 2011 budget.

Proposals are due in late April. The city's fiscal year starts July 1.