Members Fight For Ambulance Corps' Undecided Future

Mayor says he is considering different emergency service options, all of which keep Mahwah's volunteer service in tact

The exact future of Mahwah’s ambulance system is undecided, but it will include volunteer squads, according to a statement made by township administration Thursday night.

The announcement was in response to a presentation by members of Mahwah’s volunteer ambulance corps asking the township government to leave the current emergency response system in tact. The presentation revealed that the corps has recently met with Mayor Bill Laforet to discuss its fate.

“My goal is simple. I must take steps to ensure an effective and efficient ambulance corps service to this community when a 911 call is placed,” Laforet said when explaining why he may propose to alter the current system.

Business Administrator Brian Campion explained that the township is “looking into multiple proposals and models, but all of them anticipate that both volunteer squads will remain in existence.” According to Campion, the administration is considering a system in which a dispatcher’s first two calls during an emergency situation would go to Mahwah’s volunteer squad. If they didn’t answer or couldn’t respond, the third call would go to a third party, private service.

Currently, if Mahwah’s squads cannot respond to an incident, dispatchers call for mutual aid – back up from other nearby municipalities, like Ramsey and Wyckoff. According to Laforet the other towns’ “welcome mat[s are] wearing thin.”

Laforet told a crowd of about 50 volunteer ambulance workers at Thursday night’s meeting “it is not personally any of you. What you do everyday is amazing and something I could not do. It is the structure of the system that is being outpaced by the daytime population in Mahwah,” which he estimated to top out at 50-55,000 people, plus those driving through.

According to Laforet and Campion, the main goal in looking at restructuring options is to improve ambulance response time. “I must examine…response times, the time it takes for an ambulance to sign into service, the number of times we need to rely on other towns, the increasing number of calls, and the lower number of actual volunteers that are available to answer these calls,” he said. “I can’t make what are potentially death decisions based upon emotion.”

Laforet said he has called the ambulance corps to several meetings since December to discuss “potential solutions to these issues. While Company #4 is very understanding of the problem and willing to help, Company #1 has refused,” he said.

According to Maryann Mauro, the president of Company 1, “we just want to continue what we do, because we are very good at it.” She confirmed that Company 1 has obtained a lawyer to deal with Laforet’s proposals. “We took an aggressive approach,” she said. “We are willing to negotiate, but we don’t want to be bullied, or told how to run our business.”

According to a presentation Company 1 member Cord Meyer made to the council at the meeting, the corps objects to the addition of a paid service as the “third call.” He cited two reasons – first, the loss of mutual aid from nearby towns, and second, the cost of the third party service to residents. Other towns’ volunteer services, he said, would not agree to come to Mahwah in an emergency if the township adds a private service to its plan, because the private service will not reciprocate the gesture, should there be an emergency in another town.

He also said the third-party service would charge residents for transports to area hospitals. “We want to keep our service, which is 100% free to the residents of the township of Mahwah,” Meyer said.

Residents in the audience Thursday expressed concern at the possibility of having to pay for ambulance services. John Vasties asked the council, “If your house is burglarized and you call the , do you get a bill? If you house burns down and you call the , do you get a bill? If there is a medical emergency and you call an ambulance, should you get a bill? People should not have to think twice before calling 911 because you might get a big bill.”

Laforet said the systems he’s considering would allow for soft billing, whereby the third-party ambulance companies would try to bill a patient’s insurance company three times – the minimum required by law. “After that, they would not pursue residents for the balance that the insurance company didn’t pay. And, if you have no insurance, it wouldn’t cost you anything. We would pass a municipal ordinance saying that, which is something that Ridgewood currently has in place.”

Town Council President John Spiech pointed out that "if Mahwah's ambulances don't miss any calls, there will be no need to call for the third party service."

The corps and mayor also disagree about the “fundamental issues” with the current system. Laforet claims Mahwah has missed 600 calls in the past five years. A “missed” call, he said, is one that must be sent out to a different agency because the company called could not respond.

Mauro said she “does not understand why the mayor is looking so far back. How is what happened that many years ago relevant to what we are doing now?” The corps cited statistics saying that in the past three years, Company 1 has called in mutual aid crews to answer calls 64 times, out of over 2,900 total calls.

Laforet did acknowledge an improvement in the performance of the corps over the past few years, especially, he said, since the implementation of the “I Am Responding” tool in 2009. The computer system lets police dispatchers see who is on duty in each company at all times. “The problem is with a lack of daytime volunteers,” Laforet said.

The administration said that it has not made any decisions, and will continue to include the corps on talks about its future decisions. “Whatever we agree on, we would need to take it to the council for approval,” Campion said.

The council requested administration present it with all of the response time statistics the township keeps before asking it to approve a decision.

Company 1 representatives said they would be open to discussions with the township, but that they are not willing to add a third party service to what they already do. “If [the mayor] is looking for the best possible system, he’s looking at it,” one volunteer said.

delgado April 01, 2012 at 02:49 AM
Look the West Bergen Tea Party and the Bergen Republicans as well as Tea Party Advocate Freeholder Hermansan have demanded smaller government and the plan is to end the Mahwah vols and replace with a FOR-PROFIT EMS service, (that may be friends of Bergen Republicans),,,,, this kills-2-birds-with-1-stone..... 1)smaller government 2) help political contributors....... If anyone didnt see this coming, then they havent been following Bergen politics.... make money for their Republican friends and say your lowering taxes.... kinda funny this never came up during Mayors election... look for in 6 months to happen.
spoiledbmeg April 01, 2012 at 02:52 AM
you are so right. the government has become who you know not what is best for the residents and the people who have make it there 2nd job helpping our town for nothing.
Buckster April 01, 2012 at 10:35 AM
Englewood, Englewood Cliffs, Fair Lawn, Paramus, Lodi, and Little Ferry, Totawa supplement their EMS by either having paid professionals cover weekday hours or to be used as back ups. Here is a link to the article. http://www.firefightingnews.com/article.cfm?articleID=24943. It is actually from The Record and posted there and while it is a firefighting blog, I assure you the article talks about Emregncy Medical Services.
Buckster April 01, 2012 at 10:51 AM
Ah, now I see the problem. There is a fear that supplementing volunteer ambulance corps starts the slippery slope towards privatizing the ambulance corp all together. Well, I would oppose that. As long as we have the volunteers to safely staff the ambulance corps, I would oppose the complete privatizing of the ambulance corps. That being said, if the volunteers are not available, I have no problem with a private service backing up the corps if there is not a crew available. I don't think we should be risking the health of citizens by unnecessary delays caused by no crew being available. Something which I am certain will get here to Mahwah in time will be the volunteer ambulance corp asking those who they respond to for their insurance information. It is already happening with the volunteer ambulance corps in Fair Lawn. Why do they do this? Because the Governor got the legislature in a bi-partisan effort pass a law to limit property tax increases to no more than 2%. So how do the towns do this? By user fees. Using the same rules of only billing the insurance companies and not making their citizens pay, the towns have found ways to offset the cost of the volunteer ambulance corps (someone pays for the ambulances, electricity, gas, and for the building and grounds), and yes if a surplus to offset other muncipal expenses.
spoiledbmeg April 01, 2012 at 01:52 PM
Buckster acordding to http://www.firefightingnews.com/article.cfm?articleID=24943 article that some one refered to what i was saying: " In an attempt to spend wisely, Little Ferry hired EMS employees who perform DPW work when not responding to emergency calls. They are paid $12 an hour from the municipal budget, said Borough Administrator Ken Gabbert. He was unsure if the hiring would raise taxes.." It better then letting the patient foot the bill like Englewood Cliff, "And Englewood Cliffs recently hired Holy Name Hospital's ambulance service to respond to daytime emergency calls paid for by third parties when a patient's insurance company foots the bill."
spoiledbmeg April 01, 2012 at 01:56 PM
Buckster Please get you fact before you speak even more.
spoiledbmeg April 01, 2012 at 01:59 PM
also where i used to live and ride there was a point when if we know that we were not able to get a crew to ride we ask for the captain to ask another town to cover for a little while but you also have to return the favor when ask. Instead of waiting for that crew cant happen then ask. ask when need help ( it may cost just pizza or alouding then to hold a crew at you base but using there rig.
Buckster April 01, 2012 at 07:59 PM
Just to make sure it is clear, I have no vested interest in this other than as a Mahwah resident. I have no understanding of the history of this dispute nor any conversations which may have occured between any government officials and the amulance corps. All I heard is company one has been the one's who have been vocal in their objections and that company four has not. Since I am not a member of company four or related to anyone who is, I assumed the silence was acceptance (perhaps grudgingly). My position has been stated before. No sense repeating it again. What I would like to see is people coming out with facts or clear opinions instead of name calling and innuendos. Not everyone is on the ambulance corp and knows what has or hasn't transpired. Educating the public would be nice. Who knows, my opinion may change?
spoiledbmeg April 01, 2012 at 08:27 PM
Buckster my parent live in little ferry and i used to ride there they pay the dpw to work for the town as part of there day to day duty are to take the abulmance call too. They dont used private company to give the town service.
spoiledbmeg April 01, 2012 at 08:32 PM
i went to the fuchs website: http://www.fuchsems.com/services/fleet.html Our fleet, which consists of 9 ambulances and 7 wheelchair vans, comes equipped with some of the latest technological advancements in the industry. Each vehicle is part of an intricate network allowing our communications hub to monitor vehicle location and dispatch our technicians based on the closest proximity of an incoming call." Closest proximity why should resident recieve that when it fast to get a crew then wait for paid even if it ends up needed mutal aid
T-Bird 148 April 01, 2012 at 09:07 PM
come on ... we are really going to compare Little Ferry to Mahwah??? Apples to oranges. Using DPW employees sounds like a good idea in theory, but don't think it would work in a town of this size. Last time I checked DPW was already short about 9 people and many of the DPW employees are already members of the volunteer fire dept. If they are covering fire dept AND EMS calls when will the roads get plowed and fixed, the recycling and leaves get picked up, etc.?
Andy Schmidt April 01, 2012 at 10:00 PM
Ahem, most people on the various township boards ALSO "make it their 2nd job helping the town for nothing". The "government" you are complaining about are township residents who ALSO give up THEIR nights and many hours during the day to run the town. I thank EVERYONE whose primary job and personal situation allows them to dedicate time to their township in whatever capacity they can. Naturally there will be disagreements on how to do certain things in town - but it's wrong of any one volunteer to badmouth another volunteer. If there are issues, then put the facts on the table and support your viewpoint with those facts. Maybe there is some sort of agency that tracks call volume, calls missed, response times for the calls answered, etc. Then everyone would be able to see if some sort of "backup" is indeed advisable - or if residents can already be certain to be looking at a ambulance within minutes of placing a call.
Andy Schmidt April 01, 2012 at 10:11 PM
I'm lost - who is taking "jobs" away? If a call comes in that the volunteers are unable to respond to - then having a "third party" respond is NOT taking anyone's job away? I've seen this ads and posts in the past couple of months claiming that someone wants to replace our fine ambulance corps with a paid service. NOW Jessica's article finally revealed the truth, that the concern is NOT AT ALL with eliminating the ambulance corps, but with providing a reliable/consistent backup for those calls the volunteers of this (or other towns) have been unable to respond to in a matter of minutes. If my loved one was in need of an ambulance, I rather have a paid service pick her up "right now" then her having to wait for the first call, the second call, the third call - to see if we get lucky that some volunteer in some neighboring town will be available. I'm thankfor for every call our volunteers can manage - but I'd like to see some numbers that show the number of calls where response times were more than a few minutes. IF there ARE any such occasions then I appreciate any effort that is being made to address that coverage gap.
tothebrim April 01, 2012 at 10:37 PM
I have been following the chain of comments about the amublance corps issues. I would like to ask a coupe of questions and make some comments. I wonder how many of the people that expressed their opinions actually attended the meeting?? I for one was there. The presentation addressed the calls for both Co 1 & Co 4 over the past 2 and half years. There statics should speak for themselves. The request for mutual aid during this time period is above reproach. These two VOLUNTEER organizations do not warrant such critism. And just for the record, the surrounding mutual aid towns were also in attendance to show their support. I would hope that before any more bashing of these two agencies, people will wait to get all of the facts.
Al April 01, 2012 at 11:29 PM
.... Or perhaps show up at a mayor and council meeting and speak your thoughts at the public forum. Until then, Stop the bickering behind false identities and make yourself an your opinions known to the those who make the decisions.
spoiledbmeg April 01, 2012 at 11:42 PM
its the same situation. just little ferry is smaller but then your going to paid an emt from a paid crew verses hiring 9 more people to work the DPW. Which there is a set dpw crew the ride the rigs and the ones who are fire go to fire after the right number of rigs that are require go. So Please tell me that the volunteer fire dept is not cross trained as emt. So you save money . ( also tothebrim right) also i never know this issue until the patch wrote it. I live like 3block from Co 1 which i hear them go on calls all the time even in the middle of the night. ALso Co 1 has been to where i live a fair amount of time . Never really had to wait no more the 5 before they were here from the point where we called. ALso CO 1 I dont blame them for not speaking. The BASHING HAS TO STOP BECAUSE YOU NEVER KNOW WHEN YOU WILL BE asking CO1 or Co2 at your house or an accident which you may needed them. acording to tothebrim, "And just for the record, the surrounding mutual aid towns were also in attendance to show their support." It seem like this should never been this big of an issue. I only starting writing to one give a sugestion which was rip apart by many also I not afraid to speak about help them cuz my family does ride.
spoiledbmeg April 01, 2012 at 11:46 PM
Al if i was the company 1 or company 2 I would have try to inform the resident of this topic of many interest of the meeting. so they could speak to support there voluteering residents. God bless the souls who help the people when they are in need and God teach the ones who may have the able to help. show them AMEN
Mike April 02, 2012 at 02:31 AM
I am talking of northwest Bergen towns.. Fair Lawn is back to all volunteer just for your info. and Paramus has been a paid dept for many many years now. So again please supply your facts.
Mike April 02, 2012 at 02:34 AM
Thank you Al.. The issue here is exactly what you stated. Uneducated politicians being pushed to make decisions that they have no clue about.
spoiledbmeg April 02, 2012 at 02:49 AM
The politicians need to walk a day in an emt shoes. having to leave dinner , hoildays, birthday and another is your child first.
JS April 02, 2012 at 03:45 PM
Mike, FYI, the ambulances in Fair Lawn are indeed staffed by volunteers, who stand by at there building and respond within seconds of a call. Secondly, although the trucks are staffed by volunteers, the town bills their residents for ambulance services. They use a 3rd party billing agency to process and collect on those claims and BLS services provided. Also, when Fair Lawn's EMS is unavailable, they reach out to private and hospital based ambulances to respond to assist them through MICCOM.
Andy Schmidt April 02, 2012 at 04:01 PM
It's hard to come by any facts unless you file an open records request for whatever files dispatch keeps. So I looked for the official position of the township, and found this statement by the mayor: http://www.teamlaforet.com/mayor_bill_laforet_s_statement_regarding_ambulance_corps I can't speak to its accuracy. But clearly the various paid-for campaign-style ads that the mayor is trying to "save his budget" are not very believable, considering that he is proposing that a professional service should be dispatched ONLY if the volunteers are unable to respond after 2 calls. If there is a diabetic emergency, or an allergic reaction, or a person with chest pain, or a child with breathing difficulty - how would you feel if the 911 dispatcher told you "I'm so terribly sorry, I've already tried twice, but I can't get any EMT to respond" or the EMTs responds but there is no driver, or the driver responds but there is no EMT... Many volunteers need to be available at the same time for things to go right. It is NOT their fault, when there are occasions each year when despite their best efforts they just can't provide a full crew when 911 needs them. But, it IS the stated job of the mayor NOT to tuck his head in the sand and hope that during HIS term there won't be a worst case scenario where a delay in service causes irreparable harm to a patient. I didn't elect a mayor to sit by - but to raise issues that require discussion - even if they are uncomfortable to some.
Andy Schmidt April 02, 2012 at 04:16 PM
Maybe the first step would be for the 911 dispatch center (wherever that is) to provide records about the calls "missed" to the council and the ambulance corps. Hopefully there are even records that show the 10% of the calls that had the longest response times. Then it should be obvious if there is any need for action - or if everything is just "dandy". The problem are not the 90% of calls (or whatever the percentage might be) where everything falls in place: 911 asks for an ambulance, volunteers are able to get there within minutes and the emergency is dealt with swiftly. The key is to look at the (hopefully) very small number of calls where someone in distress had to wait too long for comfort while dispatch was trying to raise a "full crew" during some inopportune time - and see if a paid service would have been able to react quicker.
hsr April 02, 2012 at 05:02 PM
where would private amb. be stationed? Would they be in the current buildings during a state of emergency like our crews now? Well maybe they'll take over those buildings and answer calls from there for all surrounding areas! Wow what an amount of traffic and noise around the clock! Think about it! Are you close to one of the buildings?
delgado April 03, 2012 at 01:49 AM
It appears the FOR-PROFIT company that is going to replace the local Mahwah vols has ties to Bergen Freeholder Hermansan and the Korean community. Its sad that the Bergen Republican machine is all about profit for their friends.
delgado April 03, 2012 at 01:56 AM
look Freeholder Hermansan and his friends who run the Korean for profit Ambulance corporation, will make a lot of money for themselves off of Mahwah taxpayers...... thats all this is about....
Andy Schmidt April 03, 2012 at 02:31 AM
Since there is no talk about "local Mahwah vols going to be replaced", this entire conspiracy paranoia is just some mania in your head.
spoiledbmeg April 03, 2012 at 02:32 AM
Listen everyone should stop feed the insanity of this and direct there concerned directly to the mayor of mahwah.
T-Bird 148 April 03, 2012 at 07:35 PM
spoiledbmeg, does that apply to everyone or is it a case of "do as I say, not as I do!" ???
spoiledbmeg April 03, 2012 at 08:55 PM
Tbird 148 i read the mayor blog and watch a video that he tape. So where i was going with stopping the insanity because there is alot more to the eye of the public. have you ever hear the saying you dont know what happens behind closed doors


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