N.Y. council vote to investigate FD's ambulance plan sparks rancor

An outside accounting firm would investigate expenses and income associated with the Lockport Fire Department's proposed service


Benjamin Joe
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

LOCKPORT, N.Y.— Wednesday's Common Council meeting ended in fireworks after aldermen voted unanimously to contract an outside accounting firm to investigate expenses and income associated with the proposed ambulance service provided by Lockport Fire Department.

Late into the three-hour meeting, Doug Nicholson, a retired firefighter who also ran for the Alderman-at-Large position in 2019, scolded the Common Council for adopting the resolution when time was of the essence, as well as the funds to secure the independent audit.

The Lockport Fire Department has proposed to offer EMS service. Mercy Flight was the only third-party ambulance service to respond to a request for proposals.
The Lockport Fire Department has proposed to offer EMS service. Mercy Flight was the only third-party ambulance service to respond to a request for proposals. (Photo/Lockport Firefighters/IAFF Local 963)

The Common Council erupted.

With accusations back-and-forth of playing politics with lives, as well as accusations of a "witch-hunt" being perpetrated by Nicholson as Alderwoman-at-Large Gina Pasceri defended her "due diligence" on the issue as a requirement for being on the council, the room calmed down long enough for 4th Ward Alderman Luke Kantor to discuss potholes, and then vote to adjourn the meeting for the night.

"Let's hope something terrible doesn't happen in this city where we have to worry about the response of ambulance service from out of town," Nicholson said after the meeting. "That's very important. It's not unusual for things to pick up during the summer."

The preceding hours of the confrontation had many speakers, including Mayor Michelle Roman and Fire Chief Luca Quagliano, as well as Niagara County Emergency Services Director Jonathan Schultz and Twin City Ambulance Services President Terry Clark, all point the finger directly at the city to "use its resources" as Michael Gugliuzza, director of Medical Operations at Mercy Flight, said.

"You have an untapped resource with your firefighters," Gugliuzza said. "Utilize the staffing that you have to provide a service."

Mercy Flight was the only third-party ambulance service to respond to the Ad Hoc Ambulance Committee's request-for-proposals (RFP) with an offer of $454,000 a year for two Advanced Life Saving (ALS) ambulances in the city.

"(LFD's paramedics) are untapped and unused when every other place in the nation is struggling to get paramedic help," Gugliuzza said, noting that he was standing to make money from the ambulance calls in Lockport, but believed that LFD was the proper organization to give the aid.

Copies of the committee's numbers and rationale were also made available to the public.

Yearly costs were estimated between $296,000 and $394,000 depending on overtime accrued. There were also revenue streams included in documents as well to the tune of $7,000 for the Accident Insurance Recovery Program and $600,000 to $1 million in additional revenues from ambulance service.

"The city currently holds a Certificate of Need through the NYS Department of Health that states our fire is operating as an Advanced Life Support (ALS) service, as determined by the public need, but it does not include providing transport services," reads the document. "As ALS providers, our paramedic-certified personnel are the lead on any EMS call and by law must not deny care. Our personnel would never deny the care regardless of requirements, but it is stated here to demonstrate how this process works."

The document goes on to say that City of Lockport firefighters respond to supplement the response from 3rd party ambulance services and even rides with those ambulance to transport patients to a hospital, but there is no way to bill for that service. This is coupled with news that the current private ambulance service will be unable to guarantee an ALS ambulance to Lockport in the document, as well.

"We'd like to support you any way we can," Terry Clark, president of Twin City Ambulance, said. "If that means you going back to the ambulance business, so be it."

After hot heads cooled down, Roman gave her final comment for the night to the US&J.

"I hope that we can move forward on this," she said. "I am just concerned with the health and welfare of everyone in the city and I'm glad we have good partnerships."

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(c)2022 the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal 

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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