A new emergency truck for the city of Dunkirk Fire Department may be needed sooner rather than later.
That was the report from Fire Chief Keith Ahlstrom at the last Common Council Public Safety Committee meeting.
"We do a certain amount of transporting of patients in the fire department, we average 15 to 20 a month," he said. "It goes up and down with the ambulance service ... it certainly has an effect on equipment in two ways."
Ahlstrom said the department's emergency truck is "very near the end of its life expectancy as it is and this makes it so it goes a little bit faster."
Ahlstrom added that would be the next vehicle the department looks to replace and is looking for grants. He said there have been questions from the public as to when the DFD transports patients.
"We normally operate under the understanding that if the ambulance can be there they will transport. So people call the fire department and say they have to go to the hospital, we just don't go and take them. We call the ambulance service, we ask them to respond," he explained. "They deliver a higher level of care than we do. We are basic life, advanced life. We are coming to a point where I'm starting to have discussions amongst the guys at work. The captain and I have talked about it and we're doing some research on what other cities do.
"We may come to the point where we're going to assume more transports. It becomes hard when you leave not knowing if we're going to transport or not going to transport. If we knew that we're going to transport we can make other decisions as to how do we compensate the fire department for that period of time."
Ahlstrom said if the DFD uses supplies but does not transport it is resupplied by the ambulance service, which then bills the patient's insurance carrier. He said if the DFD transports it is on its own for supplies which are purchased on an as-needed basis from local stores.
"We could do them more economical than what we're doing them if we knew that we were going to be supplying so many units of certain equipment on a regular basis," Ahlstrom said. "It seems to be an awful lot of time where they do not have a rig available, ... not just in the city of Dunkirk but also in the towns, which we happen to be transporting on a more regular basis than what we were going to.
"It also means if Fredonia is out on a call and they get a second call we're up in Fredonia. It also means that if we're out on a call and we get a second call, Fredonia is down here."
Fourth Ward Councilwoman Stacy Szukala chairs the committee. She asked Ahlstrom if more responsibilities would require the department take on the billing for the supplies.
"I have talked to the mayor a couple of times in the past about this. It's something, until you get to a certain number of calls, it doesn't make financial sense to be the billing (agent), but that is one of the discussions we're going to have to have," the chief replied. "That would be one of the financial impetus to have us do more transports so we would get to that number and get reimbursement back and it wouldn't be that we would be billing residents for the services."
He explained the insurance companies, Medicaid and Medicare would be billed.
Third Ward Councilwoman Rose Floramo wanted to know when the department transports and if the department is called or responds automatically.
"Our policy has been if the ambulance comes they do the transport. The issue is that they're not coming all of the time and sometimes when they come they're not coming in as timely a fashion as what we usually do," Ahlstrom replied. "Some calls to us, we notify them. Some calls come to them, they notify us."
Ahsltrom said anything that would call for advanced life support is required by law to be transported by the ambulance service.
"The level of care that we can give is putting somebody on oxygen, taking vitals," he explained. "We cannot start an IV or give drugs."
Emergency services runs make up the majority of the department's runs. Numbers in this category for the year through September include a high of 185 in July to a low of 99 in April. The total number of EMS runs through the first nine months of 2010 is 1,115. The total of runs for other purposes is 313, which includes 174 still alarms; 99 box alarms and 38 mutual aid calls.
The department has averaged just over 15 transfers per month in 2010, including a high of 34 in July and a low of nine in September.
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