OSWEGO, NY – Mayor Tom Gillen cast the deciding vote Thursday night to approve the city’s fire department leasing an ambulance for the next 60 days.
Following more than an hour debate on the resolution, the vote was 3-3 with Second Ward Councilor Mike Myers excused.
A couple councilors urged the city to do away with the ambulance service and allow a private company to take it over.
Sixth Ward Councilor Eric VanBuren said he has yet to hear any councilor come up with a plan to replace the ambulance service.
Fourth Ward Councilor Shawn Walker said he had spoken to Menter Ambulance and was told they are more than happy to take over the service in the city.
“We all want the same thing,” Seventh Ward Councilor Ron Kaplewicz said. “To provide the best service for the safety of our residents at the best possible cost.”
He urged the city not to give up control of the service.
Third Ward Councilor Mike Todd noted the council has been wrestling with this issue since the first of the year.
“It shouldn’t take four months to make a decision,” he said. “Don’t talk about it, do it. Four months is too long.”
Under the deal, the fire department will rent an ambulance for $125 per day for the next 60 calendar days.
“They (the council) are going to look at how the next 60 days go,” Fire Chief Jeff McCrobie said following the special council meeting. “It’s the amount of revenue and the amount of overtime that seems to be generated because of it that the council will focus on.”
“I don’t think there’s ever been a question about the product we put out there. It’s sometimes the cost of it that gets people a little up in the air,” he told Oswego County Today.
There are currently four ambulances at the city’s DPW garage needing some type of repair.
“At our peak, we ran six ambulances. Now we are down to one physical ambulance,” the chief said. “Every time a second ambulance call comes in, I worry about where the next ambulance is coming from. First and foremost, how long are our people going to be on scene because we send an engine company to stand by for that. After the patient care thought is that we are losing revenue to another ambulance service.”
The revenue generated by the city’s ambulance service is anticipated in Oswego’s 2014 budget, he pointed out.
According to the chief, that puts the city down about $20,000 for the month of April for backup ambulance calls.
“That (revenue) is going to have to come from somewhere,” he said.
During their discussion, councilors debated keeping the service or privatizing it.
“I want to keep the ambulance in the hands of the fire department because I have control of it. Then, I know where they’re coming from, what their qualifications are, how many people and who they are sending,” McCrobie explained. “With a private ambulance, we’ll still send our firefighters-paramedics to meet them, but I don’t know what’s there.”
The city’s ambulance service has more experience than other in Upstate New York, probably Central New York and perhaps the entire state, the chief said.
“I’ve got paramedics that have been working as paramedics for 18 years. There’s no price on that. That’s good experience, built up over the years,” McCrobie said. “I have got 53 critical care slash paramedics on staff. That is probably tops in the area, too. We have a lot of experience and I’m proud of it.”
Voting yes were councilors Fran Enwright, VanBuren and Kaplewicz.
Voting no were councilors Walker, Todd and Bill Barlow.
The people of the city deserve to have the best possible ambulance service, the mayor said.