N.Y. fire department gets city's OK to provide EMS service again
Lockport's council president called for an emergency meeting because of the number of mutual aid calls to VFDs last Thursday
By Benjamin Joe
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
LOCKPORT, N.Y. — The vote to give back the Lockport Fire Department its ambulance service and put the City of Lockport back into the "ambulance business" was made official at an emergency meeting of the Common Council, Monday, put together by Common Council President Paul Beakman.
Beakman had declared the meeting to be necessary based on the number of mutual aid calls dispatched to volunteer fire companies to help in the city, Thursday after tumultuous weather. Formerly, the meeting was a work session to take a look at the numbers of a Buffalo-based accounting firm on the feasibility of the fire department taking on the costs of transporting patients to a hospital.
A personnel meeting was called for 5 p.m. in which council members discussed litigation with a representative of the fire union, Corporate Counsel Laura Miskell-Benedict said. Approximately two-and-a-half hours later at 7:30 p.m, the Council and Mayor Michelle Roman emerged from the M-24 room behind the Common Council chambers. The room was packed, at least 100-people and included television press from Buffalo.
"We are going to be moving forward with a vote today but there will be no public comment, there is to be no yelling out, negativity or positivity towards anybody at the dais. No matter what the decision is," Roman said once seated. "We are going to follow what the decision is and go from there."
The room, which had sustained some shouting between different parties, as well as a Buffalo Bills-style clapping, went quiet as the City Clerk Sarah Lanzo read the resolution.
Each official voted for the first resolution. Beakman, 3rd Ward Alderman Mark Devine and 2nd Ward Alderman Luke Kantor voted yes. Alderwoman-at-Large Gina Pasceri and 5th Ward Alderwoman Kristin Barnard voted no. 4th Ward Alderwoman Kitty Fogle abstained. Roman voted to break a tie, also a yes vote.
Fogle was unavailable to comment on her abstention.
The resolution voted on established that the Lockport Fire Department will equip and otherwise make operational two ambulances in its possession; that the City of Lockport will apply for a Certificate of Need for Ambulance Service; as well as negotiate the best way for its reimbursement and billing procedures with insurance companies.
A second resolution was withdrawn, that would have authorized the mayor to contract with Mercy EMS for one year of a 24/7 staffed basic life support ambulance dedicated to the City of Lockport and an additional 16-hour per-day BLS ambulance also dedicated to the City of Lockport. The price Mercy EMS assessed to do this was $190,000 yearly. Other expenditures involved with the resolution pushed the price up to $317,000 a year.
The believed revenue for the ambulance service is $750,000 yearly. Expenditures include full-time wages for a billing clerk, $114,000 in overtime, fuel at $80,000 annually, maintenance coming to $17,500 for each year, as well as for equipment maintenance at $20,000 and motor vehicle equipment at $103,000.
Two-powered lifts and one year's maintenance for such equipment also was agreed to be spent to the tune of $121,000.
Lockport Republican vice-chair Dave Blackley did dispute the vote, saying it was not done legally. Legislator Rick Abbott, who was at the meeting, also texted this reporter to say that there were neither four votes or a tie, making the vote invalid in his eyes.
After Blackley made his accusation, Beakman called Jason Cafarella, deputy counsel for the City of Lockport, to refute the notion.
"There were three votes in the affirmative to approve the motion, there were three votes that were not affirmative to approve the motion and the mayor broke the tie," Cafarella said.
Beakman commended the Council for its hard work. He also apologized for politicizing the issue.
"We did the right thing tonight, the whole council did the right thing tonight," he said. "As soon as we can get our Certificate of Needs in place and get those stretchers, we are back in the ambulance business. I'm hoping its two months, if we can make it happen faster we will."
For his part, Terry Clark, president of Twin City Ambulance, had written a letter to Roman saying his company will no longer be making Lockport a priority after Jan. 31 unless the City gave its fire department duties for ambulance transport.
"All I can say is that the January 31 deadline is a moot point," Clark said. "We will help out as much as we can as the transition occurs."
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