Fire chief sets up NY volunteer ambulance service

Fire Chief Keith Ahlstrom got the green light to pursue legal certification to establish a nonprofit ambulance service in Dunkirk

By Susan Chiappone
Buffalo News

DUNKIRK, N.Y. — Dunkirk Fire Chief Keith Ahlstrom got the green light to pursue legal certification to establish a nonprofit ambulance service in the city.

The go-ahead, in 4-1 vote, came Tuesday in the chambers of the Common Council.

Council President A.J. Dolce, who voted against the measure, said he wanted a breakdown of the $25,000 in legal fees requested in the resolution.

Ahlstrom said members of the city's Fire Department have been transporting city residents as an ambulance service since November and would continue to do so. He said the resolution to hire Page, Wolfberg and Wirth of Mechanicsburg, Pa., was based on recommendations from other fire companies that decided to establish and certify an ambulance service and begin the process of setting up third-party billing. The billing he process is complex and requires approvals with Medicare, Medicaid and other insurances, he noted.

"This is not about the revenues," Ahlstrom said. "This is about the best service we can provide to the community."

Alstar Ambulance, which is operated by WCA Services, has been providing basic life support and advanced life support as well as transport ambulance services in the city for many years.

Ahlstrom said the decision to set up an ambulance service was based on poor response time from Alstar.

David Thomas, chief financial officer for Alstar, addressed the Council and said his company has been trying to improve the response time and address other issues raised to the company.

He said Alstar has 50 employees in Dunkirk and 140 employees throughout Chautauqua County. Alstar also operates Starflight, a helicopter ambulance service.

He said the company has responded to more than 6,000 calls in the city each year.

The resolution that was approved Tuesday allows the chief to work with legal counsel to establish the service and set up a third-party billing system. The chief agreed that funds could be taken from the Fire Department budget, with the agreement that once billing is established, the department could be reimbursed.

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