Manchester Moving Forward On Town-Run EMS

Council President Joan Brush listens to Manchester First Aid volunteer Caroline Bruckel talk about concerns with creating a township-funded first aid squad. (Photo by Jennifer Peacock)
Council President Joan Brush listens to Manchester First Aid volunteer Caroline Bruckel talk about concerns with creating a township-funded first aid squad. (Photo by Jennifer Peacock)

MANCHESTER – Manchester may have a full-time, township-operated emergency medical services team by early 2020.

The township council plans to adopt an ordinance April 29 to appropriate $1.5 million and issue $1.35 million in bonds to purchase ambulances and telecommunications equipment for that town-run EMS.

Those planned purchases include:

  • Five ambulances, estimated cost $985,000, 5-year average period of usefulness: two F-series type 1 ambulances, two-wheel drive; two F-series type 1 ambulances, four-wheel drive; one F-series type 1 bariatric patient four-wheel drive.
  • Five various Stryker stretchers, five Lucas CPR machines, six Laerdal FR3 defibrillators, immobilization backboards, Reeves stretchers, stair chairs, Hurst extrication tools and “other various equipment,” estimated cost $361,000, 15-year average period of usefulness.
  • Mobile and portable radios, estimated cost $105,000, 10-year average period of usefulness.
  • Mobile computers and related equipment, estimated cost $49,000, 7-year period of average usefulness.

The township will also establish a Department of Public Safety, headed by the Manchester Chief of Police – in this case, Lisa Parker – who will oversee the Office of Emergency Management, under which the volunteer emergency services organizations will fall.

“[We] intend to hire approximately 24 EMTs which are state certified and trained to operate four to five ambulances. The EMTs and ambulances will serve the residents 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, something that our volunteer squads are unable to do. Certainly, there may be times when we need some additional help. To address those needs, we will either enter into mutual aid agreements with our neighboring municipalities and/or contract with private services. The goal is to deliver the most efficient means of providing [Manchester residents] with emergency medical services,” Mayor Kenneth Palmer said in an April 12 statement.

Manchester has two volunteer EMS squads, Manchester and Whiting first aid squads. Whiting has three rigs but can only run one because of lack of manpower. The squad runs 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday and has between 20-25 members. Manchester First Aid Squad has 27 members and three rigs. Both rely upon a private vendor, Quality Medical Transport, to pick up the 75 percent of calls they cannot respond to. Manchester has had a contract with QMT for 24 years, Whiting 19 years. The township has no oversight of QMT. The private vendor operates 40 rigs with 120 employees according to owner Sal Murante Sr.

Whiting First Aid Squad member Joan Tarr addresses council. (Photo by Jennifer Peacock)
Whiting First Aid Squad member Joan Tarr addresses council. (Photo by Jennifer Peacock)

When the volunteer first aid squads were established more than 40 years ago, Manchester had only 9,000 residents. It has grown to more than 45,000 residents, many of them elderly and needing more medical services, as the volunteer pool continues to shrink. While response times are about 10 minutes or less in 50 percent of calls, the number of cases with response times of 30 minutes or more has climbed. Palmer said more than 250 calls in 2018 had poor response times.

QMT bills both the patients’ insurance companies and patients for whatever insurers don’t cover, a practice called “balance billing.” The township plans to bill insurance companies without balance billing residents. Palmer said based on the number of calls received, the township should be able to cover the costs of operating an EMS squad with those funds. They’ll explore a reciprocal aid agreement with neighboring municipalities or enter into contract with a private vendor for back-up EMS, and likely create an auxiliary squad for those who wish to continue to volunteer.

“We have been blessed with wonderful volunteers over the years. Their incredible dedication to the township is certainly appreciated and we hope will continue. Going forward, the township EMS Division will provide opportunities for volunteers who wish to help. As mayor, my statutory duty to the township is to recommend plans that will improve the welfare of our residents. As such, I wholeheartedly recommend this plan,” Palmer said.

No current township EMS member has gone on record endorsing the plan. They have questioned how the township plans to pay for its own EMS without raising taxes, a campaign promise made by Palmer. They have also raised concerns about not being included in any discussions to go to township-lead service.

Caroline Bruckel is a member of the Manchester First Aid Squad. She spoke at the April 8 council meeting. “We’re doing our best. I don’t want to see our squad being crumbled because the chief and the mayor and some other people got together and figured they were going to help this township out. Why don’t they discuss it with us?…We’re all people in the township to do work together.

“You’re never going to get a perfect situation. …But if it works, why fix it?”

She added that a township-run EMS squad will impact taxes, something residents can’t afford.

“There’s just not enough volunteers,” Council President Joan Brush said.