Bidders for Knox County's ambulance contract were named as officials continued a push to keep the process fair.
The three bidders announced Thursday include current contract holder Rural/Metro, American Medical Response of Tennessee and Falck USA.
If the companies or their representatives contact county staff to pitch their respective services, their bid will be tossed. The threat is an effort to attempt to keep the process from dropping into the backbiting that happened the last time the contract was bid.
The emergency medical services agreement is worth as much as $60 million over five years to operate ambulance transport service throughout the county, Knoxville and Farragut.
The money comes from household subscriptions, transport fees and the county's base payment -- $663,233 in 2012-13. The contract also has incentives or penalties linked to response times.
With that kind of money at stake, bidding companies in 2002 launched public-relations campaigns that led to sparring between Rural/Metro and AMR. Both companies spent massive amounts of money on attorneys, advertising and lobbying.
"There was a lot of political jockeying that happened," said Hugh Holt, the county's deputy director of finance and purchasing director.
With a no-contact penalty now in place, Holt said he believes the process of bidding the contract will be less convoluted by public campaigns for the job.
"We want this to be nothing but a purely business decision," Holt said. "And that's how it should be when you're contracting for services."
Holt said that he's not concerned about having to police the companies while his staff and a panel review the bids.
"Most of the companies that have been involved, once we started the process, are very engaged," he said.
After Thursday's bid deadline, the companies will wait while Holt's staff reviews the applications.
"Contracts like this don't come up for bid very often," said Michael Collins, director of operations in the central United States for Falck. "It caught our attention when the proposal went out."
While Falck wants to be the new provider for the county, as does AMR, Rural/Metro has a long history with the county's fire and emergency services. It has held the county fire contract since 1977 and has run ambulances here since 1985, said Rob Webb, general manager at Rural/Metro.
He said the process for the EMS contract this time appears to have fewer complicating factors, such as a PR drive.
"Last time, it did get very confusing and heated," Webb said. "We feel the process will be cooler this time."
Though the contract isn't up until next year, the bidding has begun early to prepare for the potential of a change in provider.
Matt Myers, deputy director of purchasing for the county, said he hopes to have a contract ready for Knox County Commission in December.
If a new vendor is chosen, then that company would have about six months to install new processes and systems here.
"Six months is a good time to mobilize and get things in place," Holt said. "We don't want to restrict competition by putting these people in a bottle."