Bristol board discusses proposals for fire department personnel

bristol-fd-flag-logo-webTonight, the Bristol Village Board conducted a special meeting to review the three bids that were received for the contracted fire fighters and emergency medical technician (EMT) personnel.  The three bidders being considered were Metro Paramedic Services, Inc., out of Elmhurst, Illinois; LJH Ambulance, out of Kenosha; and Paratech Ambulance Service, out of Milwaukee.  Each bidder was interviewed individually, while the other two bidders were secluded in the back room.

The reason the fire department is putting this out for bid is that they have been running short of qualified personnel.  Obstacles included the number of hours of training required, family changes, turnover, injuries, etc.  Fire Chief Pete Parker said that within a month, six people were lost.  The reason for going outside to hire is to insure the proper staffing for the village.  The individuals hired would also be required to assist with keeping training records, run reports, do required vehicle and building maintenance, thereby reducing the expenses for paid on-premise individuals.

“Plus,” the chief said, “we would be spending $60,000 to $70,000 less money than if we hired our own employees.  With the benefits and the overtime expenses, vacation and sick time, and training.  This is the best option for Bristol at this time.  That is why the suggestion was made.  Some departments use companies for twenty years.  Fox Lake is totally contract.  We wanted to be given some options.”

All three bidders made it very clear that Parker would be involved in the hiring decisions of the personnel, and the employees would be wearing Village of Bristol uniforms, identifying them as fire fighters and EMT’s of the village and not the contractor.

A summary of the three companies and what they have to offer is given below:

Metro Paramedic Services, Inc.

Michael Tillman, vice president, and Richard Swanson, director of operations, represented Metro Paramedic Services, started in 1984.  Their parent company is Superior Airground Ambulance Services, which has been in operation since 1959.  They have 1,600 employees in five states (Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio), and 200 ambulances.  They currently have 18 clients.  Some added benefits include special emergency medical service (EMS) equipment, EMS gold cars (which can be used for festivals and parades), antique ambulances (which can be loaned for parades), and a Superior helicopter (which can be used for training drills and mass casualty incidents).

Tillman relayed how their ambulances and EMT’s are deployed to areas of emergency to help with recovery efforts, the latest ones being Hurricane Katrina and Sandy.  They sent 50 ambulances, 25 EMT basics, and 25 EMT’s to help in New York recently.  Their Superior station is located in Vernon Hills, Illinois, which houses 50 ambulances and 80 paramedics.

Tillman also gave a rundown of their employee benefits, which included Blue Cross/Blue Shield health insurance with three plan level options, two types of retirement savings plans with a company match, long-term and short-term disability plans, paid vacation and paid sick time.

Colleen Fisch inquired about familiarization training here in the Bristol area, and Tillman replied that they would be doing drills with the fire department and the chief here in Bristol.

John McCabe pointed out to the rest of the board that the prices go up every year after the first year.  Ruth Atwood wanted to know if that could be fixed.  Tillman said that they audit contracts annually.  Carolyn Owens wanted to know, “Why sign a two-year contract then, if the price is going up?  What’s the purpose of signing a contract?  In my mind, if you sign a contract, the price stays the same for the life of the contract.”  Randy Kerkman, administrator, explained the process.  Once the board awards the contract to a bidder, then the village and the attorney will draft and negotiate the actual contract. “The contract will not be awarded tonight,” he said.  Owens said that she wanted to see the first and second years the same, and Kerkman said that that could be worked on in the contract.  Tillman also said that they could take an average of the two years.  Owens stated, “We are frugal in this community.”  Mike Farrell, board president, stated that he thought that they offered a fair solution.

Fisch asked the chief if the extra benefits outlined (the free training and free equipment) would be useful to him, and he said yes.  Swanson said that if the chief had an ambulance break down, or if his guys were worn out, all he had to do was call.  They would have an ambulance here from the Vernon Hills office, which could remain until the Bristol vehicle was repaired.  Fisch’s question was, “Your fleet is that big, that you can do that?”  And the reply was yes.  They stated that the distance from the Vernon Hills office to Bristol was 23 miles.

LJH Ambulance

Jan Helman and her son, Terry, said that they have been serving the community for 21 years.  They started in Kenosha in 1992.  They use the same medical control as Kenosha County, and they are eager to serve the needs of Bristol.  They wanted to provide different options so that the board could make an informed decision, and they feel they can be cost effective because they’re local.

They’ve worked with other communities also.  One they mentioned was Paris.  “But,” Terry said, “we worked ourselves out of a job there.  But, situations can change overnight.”  They’ve been covering the Bristol Renaissance Faire for 21 years.  They are very familiar with Bristol.  “We have high standards for our people.  They represent us,” said Terry.

They have 27 on staff, basic life support, advanced life support, and critical care personnel.  They provide hospital transport between Froedtert, St. Catherine’s, Kenosha Memorial, Madison, and the Mayo Clinic.  Jan stated that they also have the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) contract with St. Mary’s in Racine.

They stated that the salaries they pay are competitive.

Bill Glembocki asked what would happen if one of Bristol’s ambulances went down.  Terry replied that “they have extras.  They always have at least one.”

McCabe asked the chief if it was a show stopper that they were not able to come up with the $2 million aggregate insurance, and Parker said that he would have to check into it.  They do maintain employment liability insurance.

Terry gave more information on their “Alternatives” section.  The first option is to not provide staff every day, but that’s tough.  A non-standard schedule is not a great option.  The second option is to have a dedicated ambulance and crew which is always there, but this option is not feasible due to the high cost.  The third option is to supply the EMT, to respond if the primary contact is not available.  Terry said, “The cap is higher, but it’s less expensive.  We would provide the personnel and secondary responder should the need arise.  We wanted to look at needs from every angle.”

Glembocki wanted to know if the same party would come here all the time.  Terry’s reply was that that would be ideal, but not a guarantee.

Atwood wanted reassurance that the chief would be involved in the hiring, and Jan said yes.  “He knows the territory, his people, etc.  He has never steered us wrong.”

Paratech Ambulance Service

Three representatives from Paratech were present.  Larry Knuth, Tracy D., and Terry Nitka.  Their corporate office is located on the northwest side of Milwaukee, and they’ve been in business since 1973.  They’ve had operations in Walworth County, then expanded to Rock County and Janesville, then Kenosha County and Racine, and Dane County, Madison.  These are all of their divisions.  In total, they have 280 employees, 184 of which are medical personnel.  They also have an EMS billing division.

This is not the first time they’ve leased employees.  They would provide a dedicated person each day for a 56-hour week, which are called “coverage hours.”  “There are alterations to that,” Knuth said.  “The rotation can be changed.  Sunday, you could be responsible, which reduces the overtime significantly.”

Nitka explained their hiring process.  They would accept any applications that the chief would provide.  However, they would perform criminal background checks, motor vehicle record reviews, medical testing, and physicals.  Their requirement is that the person be able to lift 200 pounds.  They also provide a week-long orientation.

Farrell asked what other communities they worked with, and Knuth replied that they have worked with East Troy in Walworth County and Rochester.  Most of their business is hospital-to-hospital transport.  They are no longer with Linan and Slinger.  Their provider lost their insurance coverage, and it was awarded back to the provider.

McCabe asked about training.  “Would the personnel get their training here on site at the station?”  The reply was yes.  Farrell asked the chief whether or  not Bristol’s firefighters got paid while training, and the answer was yes.  McCabe asked who paid for the two-week classroom and infield orientation, and the answer was Paratech would pay.

Farrell wanted to know about backfills for those on vacation or sick.  They would provide three primary individuals, and have a fourth, fifth, and sixth approved by the chief.  They would make up the “pool” that the chief had approved.

Atwood wanted to know the chief’s role in hiring.  Farrell stated that “this is the most important piece of the puzzle.”  Knuth replied that, “In other venues, the chief chose the candidates for the position.  They would give them to us to consider for hiring.  As long as they had a good driving record and met all of our company requirements, we would hire them.  After all, they are under all of our insurance exposure.  The chief can be involved in as little or as much of the process as he wants.”

Atwood asked about the in-house evaluation that takes place every year.  Nitka said that their insurance company also checks every year.  Employees must notify the company of any moving violations, and copies of accidents are kept in their employee files.

Farrell wanted to know if they met all the insurance-related matters, and they said they did, as specified in the request for proposal.

Glembocki wanted to know how quickly an employee would be replaced if there was a problem.  Tracy D. replied that the replacement would come from the “pre-approved pool.”

The chief wanted to know if paid on-call members could be employed with our department or other departments, and the answer was yes.  They can work part-time for other departments.  They do this in East Troy and Rochester.

Farrell wanted to know if there was anything that could be done on the billing side of the operation.  The chief said that that is something that can be reviewed.  One of the other agencies also offers billing services.

Knuth asked that, if the board decided against them for providing the personnel, that they be considered for the billing services they could provide.


McCabe wanted to know if the board was required to go with the lowest bidder.  Kerkman said that they were not required to do so.  There is some flexibility because it is a service that is being provided.  However, the board would have to justify their decision.  They would have to provide reasons why they didn’t go with the lowest bidder.

Atwood wanted to know if the chief wanted a five-year contract, and the answer was no.  “If the study gets done, we wouldn’t then be locked into having to wait.”  Farrell stated that this may be a constructive addition to the study.

McCabe asked what the total budget was that they were working with, and the chief replied that it was $198,000.  Two bidders have come in below that number.

McCabe also wanted to know what the next step would be if the board didn’t approve any of the bidders.  Kerkman replied that they would have to re-group and do whatever the board wanted administration to do.  Farrell wanted to know what was next in the process.  An agenda item would be formulated for the next meeting, and the chief would be asked for his recommendation as the expert.

The next meeting of the village board is scheduled for December 27th.  The agenda item will appear on that meeting’s agenda or the meeting scheduled for January 14th.  Several board members stated that they weren’t in a hurry to make a decision.  At the meeting, the contract would be awarded to one vendor, and then the negotiation of the contract would begin with the attorney.  The services would commence either on February 1st or March 1st.




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