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Fort Covington EMS eyes split from fire department

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FORT COVINGTON – The EMS unit of the Fort Covington Volunteer Fire Department announced plans Monday to separate their funding from the department’s contract with the town at the town board’s meeting.

First Assistant Chief John Bashaw II explained that the fire department budget could no longer be expected to cover the ever increasing costs of ambulances and EMS supplies. The fire department has its own budgetary concerns in trying to replace a 10-year-old fire truck without also paying $1,800 a month to gas up the ambulance.

“We’re surviving as a fire-based ambulance service, but that’s about all we’re doing,” said Mr. Bashaw.

The EMS unit intends to become self-sustaining through a revenue recovery program, which will bill for ambulance transport. This passes the cost of such transportation from the town and taxpayers to a patient’s health insurance. Currently, use of the service is funded through the town’s contract with the department. The proposed billing company will charge a flat rate of $37 for every billed emergency transport, with the rest of the revenue funneling back into EMS.

Under revenue recovery programs, no one will ever be denied treatment or transport even if they do not have insurance. Most insurance policies, including Medicaid and Medicare, already allow reimbursement for ambulance service. There will also be a “charity care” service in place that will help pay bills for those in financial distress.

It is estimated that $60-65,000 in revenue for the EMS unit can be generated through billing for transport. This should be sufficient to sustain them while also providing relief to the fire department’s budget.

Mr. Bashaw doesn’t expect or want taxpayers to raise the amount contracted to the fire department, so savvy business demands a move in this direction. New York state law does not allow the EMS unit to implement a revenue recovery program as part of a fire department. The only way this plan can work is to officially separate.

“Nobody wanted to get to this point but society’s brought us to where we are right now,” he said to the town board.

But Mr. Bashaw stressed that the EMS unit would not be leaving the fire department. In separating, the newly minted Fort Covington EMS, Inc., would rent their current space and ambulance from the department. They would also write into their bylaws that they may not end this agreement without consent from both parties.

Another aspect to the decision to separate is that volunteers who currently want to work as EMTs for the fire department must also receive basic fire training. Mr. Bashaw hopes that without this requiremen, more interest in volunteering will be generated within the community. There are currently only four EMTs at the Fort Covington Volunteer Fire Department.

Fort Covington EMS, Inc. ,would require an initial $15,000 start-up backing from the town.

Although the proposal met general encouragement from the town board, public hearings will be held on the subject at a later date. Mr. Bashaw hopes to have town and state approval for the idea by Nov. 1.

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