Cecil County Volunteer Fire Companies Propose Cecilton Ambulance Solution

April 9, 2012

Cecil County volunteer fire companies are challenging a proposal by the county’s emergency services director to create a new government-operated basic ambulance service. Instead, they propose a paid driver service, covering the Cecilton and Hack’s Point areas of southern Cecil County, that would be operated by the two fire companies in those areas.

The volunteers’ proposal, presented to Cecil County commissioners at a budget worksession last Wednesday, would cost taxpayers significantly less than the multi-million dollar plan proposed several months ago by Richard Brooks, the county’s Emergency Services director.

Appearing at the budget session to outline his proposal again, as part of the Commissioners’ work to draft a county budget for Fiscal 2013, Brooks acknowledged that his plan had triggered a lot of opposition from some volunteer companies. “I’m not the worst person in the world as I’ve been portrayed,” he lamented.

He said some volunteers had circulated “myths” rather than “facts” and that he had no ambition to take over the volunteer companies’ ambulance operations. “None of this is intended to be empire building,” he told the commissioners.

Brooks’ plan calls for hiring of a staff of 28 county employees, stationed at three areas in the county, and county government purchase of three new “basic” ambulances to address problems with response times to calls for emergency medical services. Currently, the county operates three “advanced life support” paramedic units, staffed by county employees, while the volunteer fire companies provide “basic life support” ambulances.
The Brooks proposal would station a basic ambulance at each of the three existing paramedic stations, including one located south of the C&D Canal in Chesapeake City.

Brooks’ plan would require purchase of six basic ambulances at $960,000 in county expenses, over a four year period. Personnel, benefits, insurance, fuel and other costs would be another $4.97 million over four years. He said the initial purchase of three basic ambulances would have to be replaced in the fourth year due to wear and tear, resulting in the need for six vehicles during the whole period.

His proposal assumed that there would be no increased costs for benefits and no pay or cost-of –living increases for the staff for the next four years.

Brooks previously outlined his proposal at a commissioners worksession in late January at which representatives of the volunteer fire companies were not allowed to speak. [See previous Cecil Times report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2012/01/cecil-county-ambulances-brooks-asks-county-takeover-of-some-services-volunteer-fire-co-s-object/ ]

But this time, the volunteers had their turn at the microphone and outlined their proposals for a Cecilton-based solution, because, they said, the worst problem with slow response times is south of the C&D Canal– with a call for emergency help in Earleville often taking a half-hour for response.

“The situation is getting pretty close to critical,” said Drew Carroll, of the Hack’s Point company in Earleville. The solution would be to create a “joint venture” of the Cecilton and Hack’s Point fire companies and hire two emergency medical technicians to work daytime shifts during the week, when volunteers often are at their regular jobs and unavailable to answer calls.

In contrast with the larger operation at three county paramedic stations, the volunteers’ plan would use existing ambulances. Carroll said the costs to taxpayers would be $100,000 for the first-year startup and $60,000 in the second year. The fire companies would bill insurance companies for transport of patients to the hospital to offset some of the costs.

Right now, the county paramedic units are not allowed to bill patients or insurance companies for transport under state regulations. But adding the “basic” ambulances to the county operation would allow the county to send out bills to offset some of the costs of services.

The volunteers questioned Brooks’ calculations of how much offsetting revenue the county could obtain, noting their companies average payment of $200 per transport while Brooks estimated the county could get $300.

Monica Penhollow, president of the Cecil County Fireman’s Association, said that seven of the county’s nine fire companies now oppose the Brooks ambulance plan. Apart from questions of response time and costs, she said there were issues of “autonomy and the integrity of the volunteer companies.”

Penhollow also outlined the county-wide fire companies proposals for the budget year beginning on July 1 and requests for county funds to purchase four new pieces of emergency equipment. The equipment requests, totaling $1.1 million, cover three new fire engines—one each for Cecilton, Charlestown and Rising Sun—and an ambulance for Elkton.

The county government provides equipment and annual stipends to the volunteer fire companies, under state law requiring counties to provide adequate fire and emergency medical services. However, the volunteer companies cover much of their operating costs through their own fundraising activities, state grant programs, and fees charged to insurers for transport of patients to hospitals.

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