NEWTON TWP. — The Newton-Ransom Volunteer Fire Company (NRVFC) is in a serious bind, and it has until October to come up with a feasible solution – otherwise, the two townships may not have a fire department to worry about much longer.
With the deadline approaching for the renewal of its license and EMS coverage requirements not met, the non-profit organization approached the Newton and Ransom townships supervisors for help. The two boards joined forces to host a meeting at the fire hall Tuesday evening, Sept. 20 to canvass public opinion and solicit ideas from the residents. Approximately 30 people were in attendance, but about half of that crowd was comprised of municipal officials, media and fire company volunteers, leaving only about a dozen concerned citizens to represent the 4,266 combined population of the two municipalities, as of the 2010 census.
Ransom Township board chairman Dennis Macheska opened the meeting and asked EMS Captain Cody Stanco to give a brief summary of the situation and outline the two proposals he recently submitted to the two municipalities on behalf of the fire department for the funding of one or two full-time paid EMTs.
“As most of you probably know, it’s getting harder for us to respond to calls for the ambulance, because we are limited with only four active EMTs, who are also very busy. And the state has been changing the laws on who is allowed to drive the ambulance. The state is making it harder for us to respond with a full volunteer crew. We went to the townships to try and get something together, if they can help us out.”
Here’s the rundown:
• The non-profit organization is required every three years to re-apply for a license to operate as a fire company. That license is set to expire this January, and the application is due in October. There is a possibility of obtaining a one-year provisional extension, but no guarantee.
• With just four active volunteer EMTs, the fire company currently has a difficult time meeting the legal requirements for a full legal ambulance crew to respond to emergencies.
• Stanco said the EMS service does not currently have a seperate operating budget from the fire company, although the plan is to do so in the future. Figures for the company’s overall operating budget were unavailable at press time.
• According to Stanco, the company cannot financially survive without the ambulance service.
• The heart of the problem comes down to a lack of volunteers and subsequent need for paid drivers and EMTs.
• Two funding proposals were submitted by the fire company. The first calls for the funding of one full-time paid EMT, through Commonwealth, at the rate of $17.75 per hour, totalling $233,135 per year (total expense including paid EMTs and EMS expenses is $292,599.88), which would put the company at an approximate loss of $66,914.88, likely putting the organization out of business within a year, according to Stanco.
• The second proposal calls for a full-time driver and 24/7 EMT coverage. The expense comes to $155,064 (a total of $214,428.88 per year, with all expenses), putting the company at an approximate surplus of $11,256.12 per year.
“Having the ambulance staffed 24/7 would provide a guaranteed immediate response to all EMS emergencies,” reads the proposal packet. “Currently having limited EMTs with busy schedules is hard to complete a full legal crew to respond to emergencies. Recently it has been made harder by the state for volunteer ambulances because the drivers of the must have minimum certification of Emergency Medical Responder, which means the ambulance needs two EMTs in order to respond. …Proposal 1 would not be feasible for the NRVFC to do without any additional income. Proposal 2 would most likely be feasible but would be hard to guarantee a volunteer driver due to being limited on drivers.”
Hard copies of the complete packet are available to the public from the fire company or at either of the township offices.
“Just so the public is aware of how we got to this proposal, this is not something that we just fell upon and decided, ‘Hey, we need to take action,’” said Newton Township Supervisor Bob Naegele.
“This has been coming for a while. We’ve been hearing about it and trying to deal with it. So, we had met with members of the fire company and the ambulance service and asked, ‘Can you get us some information…so we can at least see what’s on the table, give us some of your ideas, present them to Ransom as well, go to some of the meetings, make everybody aware of the situations and then let us see what’s on the table.’ And what came out of it was this proposal, which was crafted by the ambulance personnel and given to the townships for review.
“We haven’t taken any action, other than to look at it at this point.”
Some options and topics discussed at the meeting included the possibility of hiring a grant writer, partnerships with the local school districts to recruit volunteers, ways to unite local municipalities in targeting the state for funding and more volunteer-friendly legislation, and the possibility of forming a committee among the two townships to come with a better solution to the problem.
Ransom resident Kieth Eckel touched on the seriousness of the situation and the importance of holding on to the local ambulance service.
“There is no doubt that when you need the ambulance – and I’ve been through it with both my mother and my brother – a minute seems like an hour. And there’s no question that that service is critically important at that time. Until you feel that, you don’t sense that urgency. I think we all need a better understanding – I certainly need a better understanding, and this is helpful.”
Although no solution or action has yet been reached, the two townships are forming a committee to further explore the issues and possibilities. Volunteers from the community are sought and anyone interested in sitting on the committee should contact the company or one of the municipal offices.
The NRVFC can be reached by email at email@example.com. The Newton Township office can be reached by phone at 570-378-1520 and Ransom Township at 570-586-7250.
Reach Elizabeth Baumeister at 570-704-3943 or on Twitter @AbingtonJournal.