Local News

Suit: Ban on rescue squad endangers Orange Co. residents

Posted June 15, 2009 2:38 p.m. EDT
Updated June 15, 2009 5:02 p.m. EDT

— The Orange County Rescue Squad amended a lawsuit against the county and its emergency medical services director.

The squad claims an order to "stand down," issued last summer, was illegal, harmed the squad's reputation and operations, and creates a public health emergency in Orange County.

In documents filed with the U.S. District Court Sunday, the attorney for the squad requests that paramedic Gary Clark be added as a plaintiff in the suit. Clark represents a class of people harmed by Orange County, the filing said, because "he is a potential recipient of service from Orange County EMS and is domiciled inside Orange County, and an Orange County tax payer."

The paperwork filed on Sunday outlines five specific instances where the squad could have helped respond to emergencies in the county. The stand down order prohibits the squad from doing so and, the suit argues, "OC (Orange County) has had inadequate resources to provide proper rescue and emergency transport service to the citizens of Orange County and others
evidenced by a number of incidents and accidents since resulting in injuries, some fatalities, and dramatically increased response times."

The suit seeks damages and a court order rescinding the June 27, 2008, order to stand down and compelling the county to again use the rescue squad's services.

EMS Director F. Rojas Montes de Oca removed OCRS from the 911 system after receiving reports that questioned the squad's competence and professionalism. Volunteers with the squad defended themselves against the complaints, saying the allegations were untrue or were taken out of context.

After an extensive review, Montes de Oca allowed OCRS to return to limited service in December 2008. The squad now provides service for special events, overflow medical calls and search-and-rescue operations on land. It responds to vehicle wrecks only if requested by a local fire department with limited resources.

The lawsuit alleges Montes de Oca never gave OCRS written warning or held a hearing on the allegations before issuing the stand-down order, violating the squad's constitutional rights. Montes de Oca also libeled OCRS by issuing a report detailing the allegations against the squad when he knew the claims were false, the suit charges.

OCRS is now treated differently from other rescue squads that have similar franchise agreements with the county, which has harmed it financially, according to the suit.

Attorney John Roberts said Monday the county was still trying to read the lawsuit and gather information.