A Perryville ambulance company wants to expand its operations to Pine Bluff, but the sister Emergency Ambulance Service Inc. and Ambulance Transport Service firms have had an exclusive franchise here for more than a decade.

A Perryville ambulance company wants to expand its operations to Pine Bluff, but the sister Emergency Ambulance Service Inc. and Ambulance Transport Service firms have had an exclusive franchise here for more than a decade.

Pine Bluff Assistant City Attorney Joe Childers said a 1999 city council-approved ordinance that established a working agreement with only EASI and ATS is not “perpetual,” however, and can be “revisited if in the best interest” of the public. It’s up to the council to determine if any changes are in order, Childers said.

John Galbraith of Galbraith Emergency Medical Services of Perry County said it’s GEMS’ aim “to work along with” EASI and ATS here, despite having met “some pretty stiff” resistance from the local companies.

“We have met with absolute, thunderous applause from Pine Bluff and Jefferson County politicians and the public,” Galbraith claimed. “But EASI’s objection is that we intend to knock them in the head and take their business. If that happens, it’ll be their fault.”

“Everywhere we operate, we have exclusive franchises,” said EASI and ATS owner Kenneth Starnes. “The American Ambulance Association has long felt that street-level ambulance competition is unhealthy for ambulance services and the public, and the Pine Bluff ordinance states the same. And the ordinance covers both emergency and non-emergency services.”

Starnes disagreed with Galbraith’s contention that GEMS is receiving local political support.

“Every politician I’ve talked to has said the same, and that is what we’ve got is working well for the city, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” said Starnes. “EASI (formerly Lusby’s) has been serving the city for over 40 years and ATS has been in operation here more than 30 years.

“We know what we’re doing and we do it well, or we wouldn’t have been here so long. There is always room for improvement, but we do a good job serving our public, and I believe people would attest to that.”

Galbraith said he’s “been told” by sources he wouldn’t identify that Starnes and some other EASI and ATS officials have warned local nursing homes and Jefferson Regional Medical Center that the medical facilities’ personnel “will go to jail” if they contact GEMS for ambulance services because GEMS is “illegal.”

“That’s absolutely incorrect,” Starnes said. “We provided a copy of the city ordinance to nursing homes here. We network with health professionals here, so why would we want to do something that might jeopardize those relationships?”

Childers said no one could be arrested or jailed for contacting GEMS.

Meanwhile, Galbraith said he also intends to “do business” in White Hall, Redfield and the remainder of Jefferson County, and he’s planning to work with the county’s fire departments and mutual aid group to establish a partnership.

“We already have a mutual aid agreement,” Starnes said.

“We’re able to do calls in Pine Bluff now, but I refuse to do so until we get the council’s blessings,” Galbraith said. “The city requires certain steps and we’ll meet those. And we’re already in compliance with state regulations.”

Starnes said the county “pretty well goes along with Pine Bluff” on ambulance service agreements, and he figures GEMS won’t be recognized unless new city and possibly county legislation is enacted, which he doesn’t expect.

“We’ll work within the system and play by the rules,” Galbraith said. “The county judge controls MECA and MECA controls ambulance calls on rotation.

“We’ll see what happens.”