California cuts red tape for tribes to operate ambulances, speeding response times

A new state law should make it easier for tribes to operate ambulances on their reservations, giving them faster response times to emergencies.

AB 798, recently signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, exempts ambulances owned by fire departments of federally recognized tribes from the requirement to have a special license.

Before the bill was signed, tribes had to go through the same processes that private ambulance companies are required to complete. That takes longer than the process for city and county government agencies that own and operate ambulances.

"This brand new ambulance, a state of the art vehicle, sat collecting dust for a year while we navigated the bureaucracy," said San Manuel Fire Chief Michael Smith, who pointed out the irony that before AB 798 was signed his firefighters needed a special license to operate ambulances, but did not require one to operate a fire engine.

The bill brings tribes more in line with the simplified process enjoyed by cities and counties.

"AB 798 by Assemblyman James Ramos was a very important piece of legislation to make sure tribes could exercise their sovereignty to make sure visitors and residents on the reservation were protected."

Smith said by allowing tribes to operate their own ambulances will significantly reduce response times. In recent years instead of patients waiting about 10 minutes for an ambulance, sometimes they were left waiting between 30 and 45 minutes.

"The closest ambulance was coming from AMR," said Smith. "They're great partners, but they're serving a broad area, and they're coming from Redlands as their main station. So depending on how busy they are, they might not have a unit within 10 minutes which is the gold standard for getting an ambulance to a patient if they're having a medical emergency."

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