N.Y. Fire Dept. Wants to Provide EMS Coverage

The city fire department wants to become the city's primary ambulance service, replacing a nonprofit service about to go out of business.

Chief Robert Williams told a City Council workshop meeting Thursday that the 55-person fire department has 34 paramedics and 11 emergency medical technicians among its ranks. He is recommending that the department place an ambulance it already has into service and contract out for backup service from a private or nonprofit organization.

Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen said he supports the chief's recommendation. He said the city could get state approval for a two-year trial period to see if the plan works.

"The revenue generated [by the fire department] could be significant," he said.

The council is expected to discuss the subject again Tuesday.

Officials with Saratoga Emergency Medical Services, which has provided ambulance service to the city for decades, have told city officials that for financial reasons it cannot continue to do so. Clark Hayward, SEMS president, said late last year that the group is losing money and probably would have to go out of existence early this year. SEMS has about 35 employees.

But SEMS is proposing to have the for-profit Empire Ambulance Service, which currently has a contract with Saratoga Hospital, acquire its assets and service area. This plan has not yet been approved, as required, by the Regional Emergency Medical Organization of the Hudson and Mohawk Valley.

Williams said the fire department has been providing emergency medical service at accident scenes for a decade but receives no revenue. The service that transports the patient to the hospital gets to bill them or their insurers, he said.

He provided estimates of additional costs and revenues his proposal would generate. One of the projections showed a total increase in fire department expenses of less than $200,000 and the possibility of net revenue between $370,000 and $829,907 in the first year of operation.

Williams said he could put a fully staffed ambulance on the road with just one additional firefighter. The department would also have to buy a used ambulance as a backup.

The workshop in City Hall also included presentations by officials from Mohawk Ambulance, the largest for-profit ambulance company in the Capital Region, and Empire Ambulance Service, which also provides ambulance service in Glens Falls and Troy, among other communities.

Mohawk Ambulance officials said they are not interested in providing backup ambulance service in the city, only in being the primary service, because they would have to bring ambulances into the city and want to be making money to justify the expense.

Empire Ambulance Service officials said they already have ambulances in the city because of a long-running contract with Saratoga Hospital and could provide the backup service suggested by Williams.

Representatives of the Malta and Wilton emergency squads also discussed their possible interest in providing backup to a city fire department ambulance service. Thet said adding additional runs would provide them with new revenue.

City Council members asked the various ambulance representatives questions about their proposals. Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan and Mayor Scott Johnson both asked about billing patients. They were told that an advanced life support transport usually generates about $400 in insurance money, but about 12 percent of those transported don't have medical insurance coverage and often don't pay the bill themselves.

Mathiesen said he liked the idea of a two-year trial period for the fire department as the city's primary ambulance service. He said he is prepared to recommend taking the first steps toward this plan at Tuesday's regular City Council meeting in City Hall.

Reach Gazette reporter Lee Coleman at 885-6706 or atlcoleman@dailygazette.net


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