With San Diego Mayor Bob Filner still away from City Hall, city officials are considering a major policy shift on how it responds to critical medical emergencies.

The city is planning to put its ambulance contract out for a competitive bid, seemingly reversing a June City Council decision pushed by Filner to extend the city’s existing agreement with Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Rural/Metro Corp. for up to two years. The request for proposals could be coming soon.

“The scope has been determined and we are in the process of finalizing the document for advertising within the next two weeks,” Purchasing & Contracting Director Dennis Gakunga wrote in an email Tuesday to Council President Todd Gloria’s office, which was obtained by Voice of San Diego.

Changes to how the city performs one of its most core services – responding to 911 calls – comes during significant uncertainty within City Hall. Filner hasn’t appeared at any public events since his July 26 announcement that he was entering therapy to deal with “inexcusable” treatment of women.

Filner had argued the city should delay bids for the ambulance contract while the Fire-Rescue Department studied whether it could carry out ambulance care in-house with firefighters. The council approved $100,000 in this year’s budget to study the possibility.

It’s unclear who made the decision to consider putting the ambulance contract out to bid now.

City Interim Chief Operating Officer Walt Ekard did not respond to questions about the contract, including why the bid might be happening now, who ordered it and whether any of the $100,000 allocated to the Fire-Rescue Department had been spent.

Ekard said the decision to go to bid on the contract wasn’t final.

“I have not seen the draft or been fully briefed on the matter,” Ekard said in an email. “Doesn’t mean it won’t happen … Just not ready for prime time.”

Fire union president Frank De Clercq said Tuesday he was unaware of any change in the city’s position on the ambulance contract. He said firefighters believe they can do the job better than a private company.

“We’re looking at putting an ambulance in every neighborhood 24/7,” De Clercq said.

The timing of the decision comes amid upheaval for Rural/Metro. The company filed for bankruptcy earlier this month. It has recently struggled with taking longer to respond to medical incidents in the city than it has in the past, and its formal partnership with the city dissolved amid accusations of financial irregularities in 2011.

As a whole, the city frequently misses its response time goals for first responders, including fire crews.

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Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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