Fire-based EMS Terminated in Lockport, N.Y.

Sept. 04--Twin City Ambulance will take over citywide ambulance service from the Lockport Fire Department effective Sept. 15, after Common Council members voted unanimously Wednesday night to enter into a three-year contract with the Tonawanda-based company.

And with LFD's ambulance service gone, the minimum staffing level for the fire department will be reduced to six firefighters per shift, said Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey.

The city Fire Board made recommendations last month to reduce the staffing minimum from its current level of nine per shift. The feeling is since three of the nine firefighters per shift were designated for ambulance duty, LFD can safely go with six once that duty is eliminated.

Asked whether that'll lead to laying off more firefighters, 4th Ward Alderman Patrick W. Schrader said he hopes not, but "you never know." Some firefighters retiring could negate the need for any layoffs, he said.

A few speakers at the Council meeting aired their grievances about the switch to Twin City Ambulance.

Firefighter Capt. Tom Lupo said with the move, the city is throwing away hundreds of man-hours in emergency medical training. An ambulance ride with Twin City may also cost residents more than with LFD, he said.

"We've done this for 40 years," Lupo said. "I think it is truly a mistake to take it away from Lockport residents."

Prior to Wednesday's meeting, the Council met with Bryan Brauner and Terry Clark of Twin City Ambulance. Clark, a Pendleton resident, said Twin City only charges for transports.

For those with Medicaid and Medicare, which is about 75 percent of Lockportians who've used ambulance services in the past, the cost for a ride will not change, Clark said. For everyone else, the cost is dependent on what type of insurance a person has.

Retired firefighter Mark Devine questioned why the city, which is in a fiscal crisis, would cut one of its largest revenue sources. The city-run ambulance service has brought in about $600,000 a year in revenue, he noted.

"Let's not kill the golden goose," he said.

The city should end up saving about $400,000 a year by ending LFD ambulance service, according to McCaffrey. It's been costing the city about $1 million a year to operate it and the savings will be derived mostly from not employing firefighters on an overtime basis to staff the ambulances.

"We don't have the funds to keep doing things the way we did in the past," McCaffrey said.

Council members agreed.

"No one is saying they don't do a great job," Common Council President Joseph C. Kibler said.

Twin City is looking for a location within the city to establish a substation, somewhere close to City Hall or the downtown area, Clark said. A couple of locations have been scouted, he added.

Beginning at 7 a.m. Sept. 15, one Twin City ambulance will be stationed somewhere in Lockport, Clark said. Another ambulance will come to the city later in the morning, so that two Twin City ambulances are based in the city during the day. Each ambulance will be staffed with two people, at least one of them a certified paramedic, he said.

According to city officials and Twin City, records show LFD's busiest day for ambulance calls saw 20 of them in a single 24-hour period and three at the same time.

About 25 percent of ambulance calls are to three addresses: Briarwood Manor on Lincoln Avenue, Odd Fellow & Rebekah Rehabilitation & Health Care Center on Old Niagara Road and Urban Park Towers on Main Street.

Twin City has an ambulance that "floats" nearby, Clark said. It'll be a third vehicle that's close to Lockport if the two city-based ambulances are tied up.

"There's always one heading this way," he said.

The last time Twin City wasn't able to answer a call was Feb. 11, 2004, Clark and Brauner said.

Luca Quagliano, LFD's municipal training officer, said the department may decide to use the GPS software that Twin City uses, so LFD can be made aware of where Twin City ambulances are.

Another change is coming to LFD on Sept. 15, when fire and emergency medical service dispatching are to be taken over by the Niagara County Sheriff's Office. Police dispatching will remain with the city, but fire and EMS dispatching will go through the county. The county will contact Twin City for ambulance service as needed.

Resident Russell Bruning called the switch to Twin City "crazy."

"These guys saved my life at least three times," he said of Lockport firefighters. "They work hard for us."

Other residents said the Council or Twin City should have shared information with the public before the contract was approved. Sue Wienke asked the Council to reconsider voting on Wednesday.

"I'd like to know what Twin City will give us for our buck. We should have them here to talk before a decision is made," she said.

On Wednesday, McCaffrey said the contract was 98 percent complete, with just a few minor changes to be made. She said more information would be shared at a public meeting next week with Twin City. That meeting is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday in council chambers at City Hall.

Twin City was chosen by a committee that interviewed and did a thorough review of the company and Rural Metro, another private ambulance provider that operates in Niagara County, McCaffrey said.

Twin City, which has been in business since 1955, handles ambulance services for a number of municipalities, including the City of North Tonawanda. McCaffrey said she spoke with North Tonawanda Mayor Robert Ortt about Twin City.

"He said he has had zero complaints and an excellent working relationship with them," McCaffrey said.

In other city news:

--The Council approved the hiring of a temporary payroll consultant for up to $5,000 . The consultant, retired city payroll administrator Sandra Mottorn, will work from September until December to help the Treasurer's Office cover a staffing shortage. City officials said one employee in the office is on a leave of absence, but declined to share what type of leave it is. The money is in the budget, 5th Ward Alderman Ken Genewick said.

--McCaffrey said she will share a "State of the City" update at the next regular Council meeting on Sept. 17.



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