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Firefighter's union speaks out against allegations of bias response calls

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Firefighter's union speaks out against allegations of bias response calls

By Jacqui Heinrich. CREATED May 15, 2014

Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- The Las Vegas City Firefighters Union is firing back at a recent report from ambulance company American Medical Response, which claims the Las Vegas Fire Department gives priority to rich, white neighborhoods when it responds to 911 calls.

It all stems from a recent change in city policy, aimed to give the fire department a bigger share of ambulance transports. It used to be that American Medical Response, known as AMR, would respond with Las Vegas Fire & Rescue on all 911 calls. Since March 1, the fire department only calls AMR when they're needed.

It has caused a lot of friction between Las Vegas Fire & Rescue and AMR, and now emergency responders are taking offense.

"The last thing we do is look at somebody and say, 'Oh, how much money do you have? Where do you live?' Absolutely not," said Scott Johnson, President of the Las Vegas City Firefighters Union.

Scott White, General Manager of AMR, said firefighters and emergency responders were never the target of the recent study his company paid for, which alleges risk to citizens stemming from the change in policy.

Among the study's findings: An 839 percent increase in delayed response time since the change, and evidence they say proves the fire department transports more patients from wealthy, less diverse parts of town where people are statistically more likely to pay their bills.

"This is a disagreement with an individual who is in charge of the department, Chief Willie McDonald, who made a decision to take apart a system that was working," said White. "We feel very strongly about his unilateral decision to take apart the EMS system that has received national recognition."

Johnson said not only does the union stand behind Chief McDonald's decision to take on more transports, because it is a doable goal, but he takes issue with the AMR report. Johnson said some of the parts of the map the AMR study examined includes areas not in the fire department's jurisdiction, and others that are shared by Clark County with mutual aid agreements. He said AMR is using scare tactics in an attempt to bring back lost business.

"It's clear there is a concern for the business aspect of the for-profit ambulance company. We don't feel it's appropriate if they send a message to the community that makes it appear we don't care," Johnson said.

Chief Willie McDonald was not available for comment Thursday, but has previously spoken against the AMR report.

Jacqui Heinrich

Jacqui Heinrich

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Jacqui Heinrich is currently a general assignment reporter for Action News.