Senators and assemblymen came together with fire service leaders in Port Washington on Feb. 15 to make a stand for a bill introduced by Senator Betty Little and Assemblyman Billy Jones that would ease both the taxpayers’ burden and the severe strain on providing emergency medical services provided by fire departments.
The bills would allow volunteer fire departments that provide emergency medical services to charge for ambulance transports at no cost to the taxpayers.
Much of the ambulance coverage in New York State is provided by fire departments, many of which are staffed with volunteers. These fire departments are responding to an ever-growing volume of medical calls, with many now handling more EMS than fire runs. Staffing an ambulance requires a significant investment in personnel, equipment, training, and time, and this investment is causing an affordability crisis in the fire service.
The legislation provides a simple solution. It allows fire departments to recover the costs of running EMS calls without raising any taxes. One source of untapped funds is patients’ already-existing healthcare policies. The money recovered would be used to ensure that ambulances can continue to operate with sufficient staffing and be available whenever they are needed, while also enhancing the level of emergency medical services available in the community.
“Volunteer fire departments are the backbone of our community and a crucial part of Long Island’s culture,” Senator Elaine Phillips said. “This common-sense legislation that would allow fire departments that provide emergency medical services to recover transportation costs is a simple solution to help the brave men and women who protect us each and every day. They do not deny our call for help, so let’s not deny theirs.”
“Volunteer firefighters and EMTs go above and beyond to protect their community and answer their neighbors’ calls for help 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said State Senator John E. Brooks of Seaford, a former ex-fire chief.“ Removing the restriction on volunteer-based EMS to bill insurance companies will help alleviate the financial burden our taxpayers now absorb when our volunteers provide care to individuals in need of help. We must continue to ensure that all residents have access to fire and ambulance services in emergency situations, and I urge all of my colleagues to join me in supporting this crucial legislation.”
According to Tom McDonough of the Fireman’s Association of the State of New York, there are 72 EMT services available in Nassau County. Of those agencies, 58 of those are volunteer EMT through fire services.
With the decline in volunteers and the increase in calls, areas in New York are resorting to making special districts which hire full-time EMTs and increase taxes.
“Under the present law, the emergency medical services provided by the fire department ambulance cannot charge the incurred cost,” said Assemblyman Anthony D’Urso. “This is creating a fiscal problem for the fire department, especially now with the ever-escalating costs. However, every other provider of the same emergency medical services is allowed to charge. If enacted, this proposed legislation would put an end to this inequity. I am a primary sponsor of this legislation, and I am committed to work with my colleagues in the legislature to successfully pass this bill.”