Ohio city FD makes case to provide emergency services

Uhrichsville fire officials presented a report with two options to the city council detailing the costs and benefits of fire-based EMS services


By Nancy Molnar
The Times-Reporter, New Philadelphia, Ohio

UHRICHSVILLE, Ohio — The city's fire department could become the primary emergency medical service provider to Uhrichsville and six nearby communities, Fire Chief Justin Edwards told a committee that is studying the ambulance issue.

He and fire Capt. Wes Dillon presented two options Monday to the committee, which comprises City Council and members of the administration.

The proposed cost for the fire department to provide primary EMS is $24 per Uhrichsville resident, a figure derived from the amount raised by an existing property tax levy dedicated to the purpose. (Photo/Uhrichsville Firefighters IAFF Local 4265)
The proposed cost for the fire department to provide primary EMS is $24 per Uhrichsville resident, a figure derived from the amount raised by an existing property tax levy dedicated to the purpose. (Photo/Uhrichsville Firefighters IAFF Local 4265)

The first option would be for the city fire department to provide all-hazards emergency response to the city and Mill, Union, Warwick and Rush townships, and the villages of Dennison and Tuscarawas. The plan would require four firefighter/paramedics at all times, including the chief during business hours Monday through Friday. Three full-time firefighter/paramedics and additional part-timers would need to be hired.

The second option would be for the fire department to become the first agency to respond to calls for emergency medical service in the city only, or the city and part of the region. It would require four firefighters/paramedics, including the chief, during business hours Monday through Friday, and three at other times. Two full-time firefighter/paramedics and additional part-timers would need to be hired.

Currently, staffing is two firefighter/paramedics at all times, plus the chief between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Smith Ambulance, of Dover, currently serves the city and the region as the primary emergency medical service provider under a contract that expires Jan 31. The current cost is $14 per person in each covered community. After the current contract expires, the company wants $22 a person to have an ambulance available for the region.

The proposed cost for the fire department to provide primary EMS is $24 per Uhrichsville resident, a figure derived from the amount raised by an existing property tax levy dedicated to the purpose. The charge for outlying areas would be $22 per resident.

"Simply put, this proposes using the revenue that is leaving our communities in the form of subsidy payments and patient billing revenue be used to fund proper staffing for the Uhrichsville Fire Department to deliver a complete all hazards service," Edwards said in his report to the committee.

For the same cost that would be paid to a third party, $22, Dillon said, "I feel the best bet is going with the fire department."

Edwards said the additional staffing required for the city to become a primary supplier of emergency medical service would also provide a margin of safety at fires. He said firefighters are not supposed to enter burning buildings unless two can go inside and two can stay outside. The rule can be broken if a live person is believed to be inside.

The proposals sounded good to former Uhrichsville councilman Joel Peterson.

"You've got everything in place to start an ambulance service," he said.

He said the city did not have the staffing and equipment 10 years ago to handle its own emergency medical calls. Now the fire department has two ambulances, and all full-time firefighters are paramedics.

After the meeting, Peterson said the fire department could offer better response to accidents because it can extract a crash victim from a crushed car, then provide treatment. A medic-only service may have to wait for firefighters to arrive and free the patient.

"You guys already have the people in place," said police Sgt. Michael Hickman, who is a part-time firefighter but not a paramedic. He said it is "pointless" to hire firefighter/paramedics if they are not going to use all their skills.

Councilman Eric Harmon said that the city will need a new fire station in the future, and that operating an ambulance service requires an investment in equipment.

"We have it," said Dillon. "You're paying us to be here."

Contracting with a private company gives the city no say over anything, including how the revenue is spent, said Dillon.

"If we're doing this, that money's going back into our city," he said.

Any revenue exceeding operating costs is returned to the department for training and equipment, Edwards said.

Dennison Councilman Greg DiDonato didn't appear ready to join a regional emergency medical service. He said on Monday that Uhrichsville's proposal is more expensive than an alternative presented to the village. He said EMS is one of many competing needs the city must meet, including street maintenance — a topic of more citizen questions than ambulance service.

"We don't have an endless pot of money," he said.

Outgoing Mayor Rick Dorland, who attended Monday's meeting by video link, said the committee needs to go forward with the fire chief's proposal.

"Both options are feasible and sustainable using existing and new revenues created by the increased patient transports and subsidy savings,'" Edwards wrote in his report. "Option two is less attractive since the revenue is significantly reduced.

"Potential problems will also be present if option two is chosen and the surrounding region does not properly staff their EMS system. Uhrichsville's resources could potentially be relied upon at a cost to Uhrichsville tax payers, similar to what is currently taking place.

"If others in the region prefer to have their own service or contract with another provider new mutual aid agreements will need to be negotiated that will insure each provider is being compensated fairly for the use of their resources."

Uhrichsville Councilman Ron Miller said his constituents in Ward 2 have approached him about emergency medical service.

"They want something done," he said. "They want good service."

Council President and Mayor-elect Mark Haney, chairman of the ambulance committee, said the body would take the fire chief's report under advisement and have another meeting.

Law Director JJ Ong said formal invitations should be sent about the next meeting to officials from townships and villages proposed for inclusion in a regional system.

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©2019 The Times-Reporter, New Philadelphia, Ohio

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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