South Bay ambulance company fully operational despite bankruptcy

SAN JOSE, Calif.

Despite the filing, the company is reassuring everyone that it was business as usual at Rural/Metro Monday morning. The county is a little more cautious and says it could terminate the agreement if things don't go as planned.

Right before filing for bankruptcy, Rural/Metro struck a deal with its lenders agreeing to pay only half of its debt. Santa Clara County officials say that's the best possible outcome.

"It means they have to comply with their service contract and it means they have more resources to do it," Santa Clara County executive Jeffrey Smith said.

The rumor of Rural/Metro's filing for bankruptcy began circulating a month ago.

In a statement, the company said "operations are expected to continue as normal throughout the process."

However, that statement didn't appease too many people.

"I'm slightly concerned considering that I do a hazardous activity and I can get picked up any day," Santa Clara County resident Vince Ruiz said.

"I guess I am a little concerned about it, but I would think the people that are actually running it on a day to day basis are still committed to their jobs and probably will focus and try to do the best they can," Santa Clara County resident Brenda Hammond said.

In July 2011, Arizona-based Rural/Metro signed a five-year contract with Santa Clara County. Last year, in October and then again in December, the company's response time fell slightly below what's required.

The contract states the response time must be less than 12 minutes, 90 percent of the time. The company has been fined several times.

However, their timing has been on target since December. That's because the county demanded that more ambulances be used, since the company gets about 6,500 911 calls a month.

And a week ago, one of its ambulances had maintenance problems while responding to a 911 call involving a 5-month-old baby girl. A backup ambulance had to then transport the child.

"They've got some maintenance issues that they need to deal with. We're on top of that. They know they will be subject to very serious penalties if they don't perform," Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese said.

If Rural/Metro is not able to perform, the county has the ability to immediately contract out with another ambulance carrier.

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