MERCED -- American Medical Response kicked off its first meeting for Riggs Ambulance Service employees on Thursday, the first in a series of four meetings held in January.
"These meetings are very low-key," said Cindy Woolston, general manager for AMR in Stanislaus and Tulare counties. "We're going to let the audience drive the meeting."
Thursday's meeting was also an open house for the public, with many Merced residents stopping by throughout the four sessions to learn more about AMR.
Several Riggs Ambulance Service employees attended the two morning sessions, armed with questions about their future. From general inquiries about AMR to specifics about EMT and paramedic work shifts, the AMR management team fielded a variety of questions about training, transferring opportunities and community service.
"I know there are a lot of fears," Woolston said. "We totally understand where they're coming from and we want to alleviate their concerns. That's why we're here."
The AMR team said they will offer free community services familiar to Merced residents, such as stand-by ambulances at football games and other events.
One Riggs employee asked if there will be a deployment center in the city of Merced.
AMR's team responded that they're in contract negotiations for a building in Merced, where they will have a deployment center and classrooms for training.
Another asked about AMR's training requirements during the transition period. Woolston said AMR won't require field evaluations since Riggs employees already know Merced. However, the employees will go through orientation, 40 hours of classroom training on equipment and a paid online training which can be completed from home.
One Riggs employee asked about keeping their seniority, concerned about being replaced by AMR's Stanislaus county employees. The team assured the employee that Stanislaus county employees "won't bump you out."
AMR's management team assured the audience that they plan to hire all of Riggs' dispatchers to work out of AMR's LIFECOM center in Modesto.
There are about 15 dispatchers currently working for Riggs, according to Riggs Ambulance Service General Manager Don Vonarx.
Woolston added that AMR will need to hire administrative and "pre-billing" staff for their operation in Merced."We're going to need administrative positions in our Merced operations and we'll look at the Riggs employees first to fill these positions," she said. "Current Riggs support staff will have the first shot at those jobs."
Woolston, who's worked 32 years in the emergency medical services industry, said she experienced the same worry and fear when AMR took over the ambulance service in Sacramento County, where she worked. "Everyone in this room has gone through these transitions and lived what these folks are going through. And we survived it, and we're still here -- many of us in management positions."
Tina Vasquez, 26, works as an operator at an answering service. She stopped by on Thursday to learn more about AMR.
"I was just curious (about AMR)," Vasquez said. "I've been hearing a lot about the contract through the media. It's nice to get background on the company without going online -- you can talk to them face-to-face."
Vasquez was joined by her co-worker, Damian Lopez, 26, who's also an operator.
"It sounded like work similar to what we already do," Lopez said. "I learned a whole bunch today. I didn't really know all that AMR does, like their response to Hurricane Katrina, and that makes me want to work for them even more."
Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.