City OKs leasing to REACH Air Medical Services

City OKs leasing to REACH Air Medical Services
Oceanside firefighters will soon share training grounds with a private emergency air medical helicopter service. The city will take in $1.07 million over five years from the lease agreement. Photo by Promise Yee

OCEANSIDE — City Council approved a five-year, 8,124-square-foot lease of a portion of the firefighter training grounds on Jones Road to REACH Air Medical Services on Aug. 7. 

The land will accommodate an 8,024-square-foot helipad base and 100-square-foot temporary crew quarters. Use of the brand name of the city and a part of the fire-training center is also included.

What will not be part of the agreement is the service of city firefighter paramedics on board the emergency air medical helicopter. The medical helicopter on-board team will consist of a pilot, medical doctor and flight nurse hired by the company.

In May, REACH Air Medical Services initially proposed hiring city firefighter paramedics for their service and paying all employee costs.

Don Wharton, REACH Air Medical Services senior manager of businesses and membership development, and Oceanside Fire Chief Darryl Hebert, both said there are numerous advantages to having city firefighter paramedics on board. Their high skill level, knowledge of the area, and cohesive communication between air and ground would make a city-business partnership a good fit.

“The synergy, safety and efficiency will impact hundreds on an annual basis,” Wharton said.

The idea of the company hiring city firefighter paramedics was strongly opposed by Councilmen Jerry Kern, Gary Felien and Jack Feller.

“I don’t see a valid reason to add city employees to the equation,” Feller said.

“I’m totally against outsourcing private sector jobs to create government jobs,” Felien said.

When the agreement to hire city firefighter paramedics was axed in a 2-3 council vote, Wharton said a downside of not having city firefighter paramedics on board would be the learning curve for REACH Air Medical Services staff to become familiar with city locations.

“It’s clear the City Council majority isn’t willing to put firefighter paramedics on board,” Wharton said.

On Aug. 7, City Council unanimously approved the revised proposal that did not include hiring city firefighter paramedics.

Hebert said the addition of the air medical helicopter would reduce response times and be beneficial to the city and the county.

The city will take in $1.07 million over five years from the lease agreement.

The Fire Department will be paid $156,000 annually from that amount for taking on the responsibility of program coordination between the department and air medical service.

“The relationship with air medical service is very important to ensure training and quality assurance meet the level of service expected,” Hebert said.

The Fire Department will also receive 20 hours of annual airtime for aerial reconnaissance in natural disasters.

REACH Air Medical Services will be responsible for all business operations, maintenance, clearance requirements, hiring, and the construction of the helipad and crew quarters.

The company’s next step is to go through a public review and entitlement process before it can begin operations.

Once all business operation requirements are met REACH Air Medical Services will spend a year building its facilities on the Jones Road site. During that time the air medical service will operate out of Oceanside Municipal Airport.



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