Public Health

Amsterdam, N.Y., Fire Dept. Plans Ambulance Service

The Fire Department currently responds to all EMS calls in the city, begins patient care and determines on scene whether the call is for basic life support or advanced life support.

by Daniel Fitzsimmons, The Daily Gazette, Schenectady, N.Y. / January 6, 2017

(TNS) - The Amsterdam, N.Y., City Council on Tuesday night approved a change to the Fire Department’s charter that would allow the department to provide ambulance service in the city.

The local law was approved unanimously by Aldermen Chad Majewski, Paul Ochal, Rodney Wojnar and James Martuscello. Alderman Ed Russo was absent from the meeting.

Previous language in the department’s charter prohibited operating an ambulance service, and new language authorizing the service must be submitted to the state Department of State.

Amsterdam Mayor Michael Villa, who was absent from the meeting because of illness, said he supports the measure.

A city-operated ambulance service has been a longtime goal of city officials as a revenue generator, but was shot down via referendum in 2004, at which time language prohibiting such a service was inserted in the Fire Department’s charter.

Villa said Wednesday the council was able to reverse course on the 2004 charter language with a majority vote from the council. He added that the city’s attorney, William Lorman, said a second referendum was not needed to make the change.

Officials said at Tuesday night’s meeting that a public hearing will be held on the measure, though it’s unclear what impact such a hearing would have on the outcome. Villa, who communicated via text message on Wednesday, said the hearing would provide Amsterdam residents with details of the change and allow them to express their support or opposition.

Amsterdam Fire Department Chief Michael Whitty said the city’s motivation is simply to increase revenue.

“It’s borne out of the city looking to increase their revenues,” said Whitty.

Whitty said the city will purchase one ambulance and related equipment via a five- or seven-year bond or a lease.

“We haven’t finalized it but it’s either a lease or a bond, probably for five years, though we’ve gotten projections for five and seven years,” said Whitty. “That decision has not been made yet.”

Villa said he’d prefer to lease the ambulance, but that whatever the city winds up with the vehicle will be new and not used. The approximate cost of the ambulance is $160,000, plus related equipment, he said. City officials project revenue of about $300,000 per year, Villa said.

Whitty said the Fire Department currently responds to all EMS calls in the city, begins patient care and determines on scene whether the call is for basic life support or advanced life support.

Transport is provided by the Greater Amsterdam Volunteer Ambulance Corps, a private ambulance service that responds simultaneously to all EMS calls in the city. (Despite its acronym, GAVAC is no longer a volunteer organization and is fully paid.)

In the case of a BLS call, GAVAC cares for and transports the patient to the hospital itself. If it’s an ALS call, Fire Department paramedics maintain patient care in the back of GAVAC’s ambulance and then turn the patient over directly to hospital personnel.

Under the new system, said Whitty, the Fire Department would independently respond to all EMS calls in the city and provide patient care and transport. GAVAC would respond in the case of simultaneous calls when the Fire Department’s ambulance is unavailable.

“We would respond alone to EMS calls in the city and would just do everything, BLS or ALS,” said Whitty. “We’re only going to run one ambulance, so at times there’s a second EMS call simultaneously, . . . GAVAC would respond to that call.”

“The Fire Department will be the ambulance service for the city; we would use GAVAC as a backup or mutual aid,” he said.

Both Whitty and a GAVAC official said the two services would be partners in providing emergency medical care in Amsterdam.

GAVAC Operations Manager Mickey Swartz said the organization intends to fully support Amsterdam’s new ambulance service and was well aware that the city has been moving in this direction for some time.

“The contract between GAVAC and the city of Amsterdam has expired, so they want to move forward and purchase their own ambulance and equipment and operate their own system,” said Swartz.

Swartz’s understanding of how emergency medical care will work in Amsterdam matched Whitty’s description.

“From what I’ve been told, they’re going to operate one ambulance and we’re going to support the Fire Department in a mutual-aid effort so simultaneous calls or second or third calls they can’t handle, we’re going to back them up on that,” said Swartz.

Whitty said all of the Fire Department’s 32 members are licensed EMTs. Of that, 26 are paramedics, which is a more advanced level of EMT, known as emergency medical technician-paramedic, or EMT-P.

Whitty said there are many components of the department’s new ambulance service that need to be worked out, but that ideally it would be running by the city’s coming fiscal year beginning July 1.

“There’s a lot of things that have to fall into place between now and then, a lot of things that have to happen,” said Whitty.


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