Firefighters fight to change law to save fire department-based ambulance services
Firefighters representing the four largest fire service organizations in New York state descended on Albany on Monday for their annual “Government Affairs Day.” They spent the day meeting with their elected representatives to discuss the issues of united concern, advocating personally for legislation that would benefit both the fire service and the people of New York. This year’s main priority is a bill that would allow fire departments to recover the costs of providing ambulance services, also known as EMS (emergency medical services).
The EMS cost recovery bill (S. 03685 / A. 01778) is sponsored by State Sen. John Brooks and Assemblyman Billy Jones. It is currently on its third reading in the State Senate. This legislation is a bipartisan effort to resolve a long-brewing affordability crisis facing New York’s fire departments.
Fire departments provide EMS coverage to nearly half of the state, and many of these departments are staffed by volunteers. EMS call volumes are steadily rising, with many fire departments now handling more ambulance than fire runs. Staffing an ambulance requires a significant investment in personnel, equipment, training and time.
Despite the massive resources needed to properly provide safe, reliable ambulance coverage, fire departments are uniquely required to shoulder all the costs associated with running ambulances. Unlike fire departments, every other ambulance provider in New York, including private EMS companies and volunteer ambulance corps, can recover some of the expense by working directly with patients’ insurance providers.
This legislation would change this, allowing fire departments to recover the costs of running EMS calls without raising any taxes. Once passed and signed into law, fire departments would be able to benefit from existing sources of revenue, such as patients’ already-existing health care policies. The recovered funds would be used to ensure fire department ambulances across New York are properly staffed with well-trained and equipped emergency medical technicians, ready to serve the community.
The passage of this legislation would give some financial assistance to many of the state’s departments, while also likely yielding improved response times and service for New Yorkers.
Julius J. Leone, president of the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs, said, “EMS is a core mission for many New York fire departments, and countless New Yorkers rely on fire departments for ambulance services. But the financial burden for fire departments can be debilitating, given the significant demands on training, staffing and equipment. Providing parity among the different New York ambulance providers and permitting fire departments to recover the costs of EMS calls will help ensure that all New Yorkers can expect a timely, properly staffed ambulance when they dial 911.”
Steven E. Klein, president of the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York, said, “Volunteer fire departments are responsible for protecting the majority of New York state, and many smaller departments, particularly in rural areas, are struggling to handle growing EMS call volumes. Some departments are reassessing whether they can continue to provide these lifesaving services, given the expense and requirements. This legislation is a simple, elegant solution, and would likely result in faster ambulance response times at no cost to the taxpayer.”
•Assemblyman Angelo J. Morinello attended a press conference in Albany on Monday unveiling a bill (A.7655) to make volunteer firefighters and EMS volunteers exempt from paying state income taxes.
His camp said, “There are around 100,000 volunteer firefighters in the state, saving us $3.87 billion each year. It’s difficult for volunteer fire departments to recruit and retain a strong volunteer base. The Assembly minority’s bill would help incentivize more men and women to volunteer and stay with their department long term.
“To be eligible for this tax exemption, volunteers must:
“The bill proposed by our conference today is a step in the right direction toward giving back to our volunteer firefighters and EMS workers who sacrifice so much for their community,” Morinello said. “Each day, volunteers give up time with their families and busy lives to answer the call of duty. Our proposal would ensure they have fully functional firehouses, ambulances and equipment to help them do their job and return home safely. I’m confident this bill will increase recruitment efforts and establish a consistent volunteer base in New York state. I’m calling on my colleagues in the Legislature to advance this bill through committee to a vote in the Senate and Assembly.”