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Fire district officials expect to benefit from paid EMS coverage

WEST CHAZY The West Chazy and Chazy fire districts now have paid emergency medical technicians at their disposal during times when officials say theyre needed most. The fire districts have entered into a contract for supplemental emergency medical services coverage from EMT of CVPH Inc., the emergency response arm of CVPH Medical Center in Plattsburgh. The agreement consists of a paid ambulance crew being centrally-stationed at the Beekmantown Volunteer Fire Department to respond to emergency calls daily during the hours of 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. The crew is responsible for coverage of calls within the two fire districts, which includes the towns of Plattsburgh and Beekmantown and a portion of the town of Schuyler Falls. Discussions regarding coordinating EMS coverage between the two fire districts began last August, when the West Chazy Fire District Board of Commissioners was approached by the board from the Chazy Fire District. While the departments werent having an overwhelming difficulty with EMT volunteers responding, the need could be seen on the horizon and officials wanted to be proactive, said James Kelley, chairman of the West Chazy Fire District board. Originally, the districts considered staffing their own paid EMS personnel, but each found the action would be cost prohibitive, said Kelley. The contract with CVPH, he said, brought the same service to both districts for a fraction of the cost. We have a fiscal responsibility to do the right thing, said Kelley. When it comes to the original cost of hiring EMS coverage, thats not fiscally responsible. We came up with what we thought was right for the patients first, but what was also right for the taxpayers. The $24,000 annual cost of the contract, which is divided evenly between the two fire districts, was prorated due to service beginning in March. The service is funded through taxes raised in both fire districts and by billing EMS patients or their insurance providers. The primary concern when putting the program together was patient care, said Michael Lagree, director of EMT of CVPH. We basically picked a number and started at that point, Lagree said regarding the cost of the contract. We said that we would look at this as we went forward to see if, financially, we were too light on the contract amount with the districts or if we were charging too much because we were getting more in patient revenue. Obviously, the ability to bill patients is important to the financial success of a program, but we are never going to put dollars and cents ahead of proper care and treatment of patients. We are in this together; were in this to make this successful for all the communities involved, he added. What makes the CVPH coverage additionally beneficial for the departments, said WCFD Chief Dave Lucia, is in a scenario when the departments are at the scene of a fire. Previously, a contingent of certified EMS volunteers would have to leave the scene to respond to an emergency call. That pulls two or three firefighters away from the scene, said Lucia. Now weve got an ambulance standing by, so if something happens, theyre there to handle the scene at the fire or respond to the second call. The new configuration of coverage is something those behind the decision emphasized as supplemental coverage and in no way a reflection on the service currently and previously provided by volunteer personnel, said Lagree. EMT volunteers from the departments will still be called to respond, though the agreement with CVPH will likely mean a shorter response time due to many volunteers working out of the area when calls are received. Were not here to replace the volunteers, stressed Lagree. Were just here to support the work that they do and make sure that the coverage the residents of those communities expect in this day and age is available to them. The biggest thing we were looking for was enhancing the volunteers, Kelley added. Weve got good people doing good jobs responding and we do not want to have anything we bring in jeopardize that. The contract between EMT of CVPH and the West Chazy and Chazy fire districts, which was entered into on a trial basis, will expire at the end of the year.

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