Fire Chief Werner: No need for City to bill for EMS service

Charlottesville Fire Chief Charles Werner (file photo)

More than a year after telling City Council that the Charlottesville Fire Department needed to supplement the area’s Emergency Medical Services infrastructure by operating its own ambulance, Fire Chief Charles Werner now says that step is not necessary.

“The Charlottesville Fire Department and [the

Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad

] now concur that CFD-staffed ambulances are not needed, and ambulance billing will not be necessary in the City at this time,” Werner said in a report to City Council at their meeting on January 5, 2009.

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In December 2007,

Council adopted new standards for EMS response times

which included a recommendation that the fire department begin providing ambulance services in order to meet the new goals.  Werner said the additional service would be paid for by charging a fee to those who needed service.

While Council voted to allow the fire department to begin ambulance service, they never approved the use of EMS recovery billing. Negotiations between the Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad (CARS), the County and City Fire Departments, and County volunteer fire departments did not result in an agreement on introducing the fee to the community as a whole. CARS officials said they were concerned that donations would be reduced if citizens were required to pay for EMS calls.

In his report to Council, Werner said the question of ambulance capacity has been addressed by logistical changes made by the County Fire Department.

“Albemarle County implemented one of their own owned and staffed ambulances at the Monticello Fire Station… which actually increased the ambulance capacity in the urban area,” Werner said. “This additional ambulance reduced CARS’ response area… so the demand is down and their call volume is decreased.”

Werner said CARS has also had a successful recruiting year, which means that staffing the ambulances is not currently an issue.

“CARS over the past 12 months has maintained a response time of 9 minutes or less, 93% of the time,” Werner said. That’s 3 minutes below the desired response time adopted by the EMS committee. Additionally, the fire department now has 16 fire-fighters that are trained as medics.

Werner said that in the future, response times can be further improved by relocating the City’s fire station on Ivy Road to Jefferson Park Avenue.

In his report, Werner addressed ways that the department is becoming more efficient.  He said his senior staff has been trained by the City Budget office to better organize operations. One example of how that has worked involves the regional Emergency Communications Center (ECC).

“In 2007, we moved fire dispatch from the fire department to the ECC,” Werner said. “We reduced the fire department by 5 full-time positions and saved $109,000 per year.”   To become more sustainable, Werner said the department is sending fewer vehicles to alarm calls. Only a small fraction of calls are true emergencies, and by responding differently the department can save fuel and put less mileage on fire trucks.

The Fire Department has also become more creative about winning grant funding for projects. Werner said over $7 million has been awarded to the department since 2002.

Sean Tubbs