Morgan County 911 director threatens to stop dispatching ambulances over contract dispute
DECATUR, Ala. (WHNT) – A public safety crisis was narrowly averted in Decatur this week. It all stems from a contract dispute between Decatur’s only ambulance service and the Morgan County 9-1-1 Board that dispatches fire, police and EMS calls. The director of the 9-1-1 center threatened to pull the plug and stop dispatching ambulances to emergency calls unless the ambulance service signed a new contract. WHNT News 19 uncovered the problem and we have more in this exclusive report.
The stand-off between the Director of First Response Ambulance Service, David Childers, and the Director of the Morgan County 9-1-1 Center, Ryan Welty, threatened to make it almost impossible for Decatur residents to get an ambulance in the event of an emergency. First Response has an annual contract with the 911 center to dispatch all of their calls, but that contract expired last month. Childers says he was offered a new contract but with different language that would have given him the added responsibility of answering calls well out into the county. He says it would put residents in Decatur at risk.
“In the event we have to operate outside of Decatur, we can deal with that. However, if you start collecting several calls in areas you’re not familiar with, then you’re going to slow your response times down in the City of Decatur,” Childers told WHNT News 19.
First Response is mandated to answer at least 90% of their calls in 8 minutes or less, a requirement they’ve had no problem meeting. And so Childers refused to sign the new contract saying Welty wouldn’t even meet with him to discuss it. The two were at an impasse until earlier this week when Welty delivered a letter to Childers saying if the contract wasn’t signed, 9-1-1 would stop dispatching for First Response. No other ambulance service is currently licensed to operate in the city.
“We sent them a letter Tuesday that said they have until midnight Friday to sign the new contract,” Welty explained.
“And if they don’t sign the new contract, what happens at that point?” we asked.
“We’ve never had to go this far with an ambulance company, so I just don’t know the answer to that question.”
We asked Welty if he was confident Decatur would have ambulance service after Friday, and he said, “I just don’t know what the future holds on that. I am cautiously optimistic that First Response will execute the contract so there will be no impact to ambulance service in Morgan County this weekend.”
Welty told us off-camera he would stop dispatching the ambulances if the new contract wasn’t signed and we were poised to bring you this story Thursday night. But just after 4 o’clock Thursday afternoon, we were notified that the contract had been signed, accepted, and a potential crisis had been averted. Childers tells us that he signed the contract under duress. It includes a 60-day grace period and Childers says his attorneys now will be making the most of that 60 days. So yes, there’s more to come.
Decatur City Councilman Charles Kirby tells us he, along with the mayor and other city officials, were closely monitoring the situation and were developing a contingency plan to keep the ambulances rolling. But Kirby says Welty does not have the authority to refuse to dispatch emergency help where it’s needed. As for Childers, he says he decided to sign the agreement to keep from putting lives at risk.