NEWMAN - West Side Community Ambulance crews responding to emergency calls in Newman have a less stringent response time standard to meet beginning Jan. 1 under restructured ambulance operating standards.

The new structure more formally incorporates and recognizes medical aid responses by fire departments into the emergency medical services (EMS) system, said Michael Courtney, chief of ambulance operations for West Side, and Fire Chief Keith Bowen.

Because Newman Fire entered into an agreement with Mountain-Valley to respond to medical aid calls - which was already the practice - West Side had one minute added to its contractual response time standard for Code 3 calls into Newman, Courtney told Mattos Newspapers.

“It changes nothing for us,” Bowen said. “Our station has the ability and has been responding to medical aid calls with at least one EMT.”

But the agreement does provide a measure of response time relief for the local ambulance service.

West Side has struggled to meet its previous contractual response time standards on Code 3 (highest priority) calls into Newman, which required that the ambulance be on scene within seven minutes, 29 seconds on 90 percent of calls. That standard applied regardless of whether fire personnel were already on scene rendering aid.

The new Stanislaus County guidelines add 30 seconds to the urban area response time standard for ambulance providers. For those with fire agreements in place, another minute is tacked on to push the response time to eight minutes, 59 seconds, according to a staff report for the county Board of Supervisors, which recently approved the new operating standards.

The longer response time allowance is not inconsequential for West Side.

“It is huge,” Courtney said of the change. “Eighty percent of our out-of-compliance calls are (late) by less than a minute.”

The ambulance service is also implementing a program in which administrative personnel can respond to a call in a non-transport vehicle while on duty to begin patient treatment before a transport ambulance arrives on scene. That will further extend the response time deadline for those calls, according to Joshua Brace, interim ambulance chief, but more importantly brings care to a patient more quickly.

With two ambulances serving a large rural area, Courtney and Brace said, meeting response time standards has been a challenge for West Side - particularly in Newman.

Crews running Code 3 calls into the Merced County portion of the West Side Healthcare District have a longer allowable response time under the provisions set by Merced County EMS.

The agreement with Newman Fire requires responders from the fire department to be on scene within seven minutes on 90 percent or more of calls.

With its relatively new on-duty fire officer program, Bowen added, the fire department consistently meets that response time.

“We already have an EMT response, but have never been recognized for it,” he explained. “There is no real change for the fire department other than that we are now recognized in the system. It puts accountability (on) us, and requires us to meet a response standard.

“A lot of our industry overlaps,” Bowen added. “Fire has the ability to respond to medical aid calls and provide a similar service (to ambulance), minus the transport side of it. It is a huge win for the community.”

As part of the agreement between the two agencies, West Side Community Ambulance agreed to re-stock supplies used by Newman Fire Department responders on calls, to provide EMT classes for firefighters (which would be open to Gustine firefighters as well, Brace noted) and to collaborate whenever possible on training.

Bowen and Courtney said the opportunity to reach an agreement more formally incorporating fire comes from development of a strategic plan focused on improving patient outcomes, in part through a more integrated approach to the EMS system.

“It is an agreement between (Newman Fire) and Mountain Valley EMS to assist our response. They are doing that across the region,” Courtney stated. “They are really working on creating an EMS system. You really need to include fire in that to make it work.”