Published: 08 May 2012 06:20 PM

San Bernardino County is getting ready to put its ambulance contract out for bid for the first time.

The Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a two-year contract extension with American Medical Response while it begins a review of the emergency transportation system and prepares to put the contract out for competitive bidding. Supervisors oversee ambulance service in their roles as the governing board of the Inland Counties Emergency Medical Agency.

In 2003, the county agreed to end its historic use of never-ending “evergreen” contracts with private ambulance companies, putting together a new process for contracts that include penalties and incentives for companies to meet performance standards.

However, that new process would not go into effect until after the eight-year contract with AMR, approved in 2004, expired last month. AMR is one of the nation’s largest ambulance companies and provider to most of the county.

Virginia Hastings, executive director of the emergency medical agency, said the county is working with ambulance providers, fire departments and other participants on designing the bidding process and the evaluation of emergency services. She said the process is a complex one that could take as long as four years.

The contract, which includes provisions for two one-year extensions, allows for continued service in the meantime, Hastings said.

As part of the extension, AMR agreed to provide one-time funding of $100,000 to outfit ambulances with electronic data collection system to track patient care plus Wi-Fi coverage that allows fire departments to connect to the Internet and transmit patient data.

Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Josie Gonzales said she wants the county to stick to an aggressive timeline and made it clear she didn’t want to take the full four years.

“We want to be able to complete the process as soon as possible,” she said.

Rancho Cucamonga Fire Chief Mike Bell, president of the county fire chiefs association, said fire departments in the county are watching the process closely and support the way it’s unfolding.

“It’s the process that’s most important to us, that it results in a continuous improvement in the quality of service that’s provided,” he said.

In Riverside County, AMR is the exclusive ambulance provider for most western cities, as well as all unincorporated areas. While the current contract technically expires June 30, county and AMR officials insist ambulance service will continue past that date.

Riverside County emergency services officials continue to talk with AMR about the contract, public health spokesman Jose Arballo said. He added there’s no timetable for bringing a contract to the Board of Supervisors.

The city councils of Murrieta and Temecula, as well as the county fire chiefs association and a firefighters union, argue the contract should be put out to bid so the best possible service can be provided at the lowest cost.

AMR, however, says a bid process would waste taxpayer dollars. The company provides an unmatched level of care and is always looking at ways to improve, AMR representatives said.

Also contributing to this report: Staff writer Jeff Horseman,