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N.Y. city’s new fire-based EMS moves forward with ALS unit

After dropping Empress EMS, the Kingston Fire Department has placed one ALS unit in service and aims to have a second in service


Kingston Fire Department ambulances at a hospital.

City of Kingston Fire Department/Facebook

By Brian Hubert
Daily Freeman

KINGSTON, N.Y. — Mayor Steve Noble said on Tuesday that the Kingston Fire Department now has one dedicated advanced life service unit and one dedicated basic life service unit running 24 hours a day.

Noble said that this month so far, the city’s ambulance service had responded to 359 calls and had taken 248 patients to the hospital. As for the remaining 111 calls, he said either the person refused transport, a hospital trip wasn’t necessary or it was a police matter.

Noble said the city’s ultimate goal is to have at least two advanced life support units available 24 hours a day.

The Common Council will vote Tuesday, Feb. 6 on shifting just under $860,000 from the city’s fund balance to the Kingston Fire Department to add more staff to the city’s ambulance service which has responded to nearly 360 calls in its first month in operation.

Noble said the proposal would authorize shifting $859,595,56 from the city’s fund balance into fire department coffers to hire eight firefighters, including three paramedics and five emergency medical technicians, or EMTs.

Noble said Tuesday that if the Common Council approves the fund transfer, the city expects to “hire these positions shortly thereafter.”

On Jan. 10, the Common Council’s Finance and Audit Committee unanimously agreed to recommend the transfer and hiring the additional firefighters to staff the ambulance service.

A third backup ambulance, used during the day by the city’s Mobile Mental Health team, can be pressed into service for medical transport if needed, Noble said.

As for present staffing, Noble noted city firefighters regularly work combined 24-hour shifts, ensuring full 24-hour coverage of the city.

Noble said previously that the city will be issuing a request for proposals to hire an insurance billing company to provide revenue to offset the program’s costs.

A consultant is expected to issue a report detailing the need for a municipally-run ambulance service and what it should entail.

At January’s finance meeting, City Comptroller John Tuey said that it is likely that the city will be able to collect back revenue on services already provided by the city-run ambulances since the program was started on Jan. 1.

But Tuey said it is unlikely the revenue collected will offset the entire cost of the program.

In late December, Noble announced that the Kingston Fire Department would be responding to all calls.

The move replaced Empress EMS, which took over in June when it purchased Mobile Life Support Services, the company that had serviced the city until then.

Noble said that Empress EMS would have charged the city $670,000 for the service.

Tuey said by running the service itself the city won’t be held “hostage” to the financial whims of a private company on a year-to-year basis.

Noble said ambulance service “will be provided to all those who live, work, or visit the City of Kingston regardless of whether they have insurance or the ability to pay.”

The city has “three paramedics and more than EMTs in the fire department, all with extensive training,” Noble said.

He said that most calls “require a BLS (basic life support) unit and so that was generally what we saw used here in Kingston. We believe two ambulances will meet most needs here.”

In the event of a mass casualty incident, “the Kingston Fire Department will respond to requests for assistance to other communities. ... We work extremely well with all of our neighbors, especially in their time of need,” Noble said.

In the meantime, Noble said the current fire department budget “will handle any overtime costs that might arise and so no additional funding is needed until more staffing is hired.”

In an email Tuesday, Noble thanked city firefighters for their “commitment and dedication” to taking on ambulance operations.

“They have been extremely willing to assist in this transition but I know they will be looking forward to having additional staff both now and in the future to further build out this program with our ultimate goal of having at least two advanced life support units available 24 hours a day,” he said.

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