City shouldn't be chasing ambulances

Thursday, October 20, 2016 - Updated: 7:29 AM

Amsterdam Fire Chief Michael Whitty does a great job guiding the city's fire department. However, we don't think that qualifies him to conduct an accurate analysis of the costs and revenues associated with running an ambulance service.

Third Ward Alderman Chad Majewski brought the concept of the city taking over ambulance services from the Greater Amsterdam Volunteer Ambulance Corps back in June, saying it could be a potential source of revenue.

We have many concerns with this proposal, beginning with the fact that only 12 years ago a similar proposition was defeated by voters by a 3-1 margin. The referendum resulted in a change to the city charter prohibiting the fire department from operating an ambulance service. However, Corporation Counsel William Lorman said in August he determined the city's Common Council could strike that provision from the charter without holding a public vote. Even if it's legal, we don't like altering the charter without the public's consent.

Whitty, who has been given the task of providing Mayor Michael Villa and council members with a financial projection of providing ambulance service, gave them an update last week that raised more concerns:

* Whitty said billing would be too complicated for the city to handle given the constant changes to Medicaid regulations. If that's the case, how accurately can the city project potential revenue?

* Majewski said that to keep start-up costs down, the city would likely only purchase one ambulance and use GAVAC as a backup. That means that every time there is a situation, such as a two-vehicle collision requiring multiple ambulances, GAVAC would also have to respond.

* Whitty said he wasn't sure if additional staffing within the fire department would be needed to provide ambulance service. This is a real head-scratcher -- does that mean that the department is currently over-staffed? Currently, AFD provides EMT services, but that doesn't require transportation of patients to hospitals.

We can't imagine a serious fire scene which would require numerous firefighters to control the blaze along with treating and transporting any potential victims.

* No mention has yet been made with the insurance costs -- especially liability -- associated with providing ambulance service.

The additional revenue that could be provided by operating a limited ambulance service is not worth the potential problems the city would also inherit. Instead of boosting revenue, it could bankrupt the city if it goes badly.