Reese fire company says it won't charge for ambulance calls

Volunteer organization goes against county, firemen's association

February 24, 1999|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

After seesawing over whether to bill for emergency medical services, the Reese & Community Volunteer Fire Company has voted not to charge area residents for ambulance calls.

The decision, in a 21-to-10 vote at a fire company meeting Feb. 16, is contrary to the county's recommendation that fire companies bill residents' insurance companies for ambulance service.

"The main reason that we felt we didn't need to bill is because we get county money for ambulance service and we have good fund-raisers and community support," said Jerry Dayton, company president.

Along with operating funds, the station receives $50,000 from the county to help pay for three people to staff the ambulance from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays. The company answered about 600 ambulance calls last year, he said.

Reese's decision was in line with its vote against billing at last year's Carroll County Volunteer Firemen's Association convention. The association suggested that companies do their own billing under the auspices of an association committee, rather than let the county handle it.

Many companies were against billing but acknowledged that if the county was pushing them to charge, they had no choice.

The association "has gone along with the county on this," said Bob Alexander, president of the firemen's association. "All the companies are on line. Why Reese jumped the gun, I don't know."

Eleven of the county's 14 fire companies charge for ambulance service. Harney has no ambulance, and New Windsor has no paid emergency staff.

Dayton said the county commissioners were notified of Reese's decision last week.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell said Reese will not lose funding because of its decision but that it would be better if the company charged for ambulance calls.

"We did kind of put pressure on them to charge, but we didn't say to any one company to shape up or else," Dell said. "We haven't threatened any of the companies, and we don't intend to."

He praised the fire companies for doing "such a good job that they should be allowed to make their own decisions based on what they're dealing with." Any problems stemming from that would have to be taken up with the firemen's association, he said.

Reese's members also were concerned that their tax-exempt status and coverage under Good Samaritan laws would be affected. That law protects medical personnel against liability for gross negligence if they are performing duties for which they are trained.

"I think that once you start charging, it makes your volunteer status questionable," Dayton said.

The fire company's attorney was sent a copy of a proposed billing contract and suggested possible legal problems with the company's tax status and with the Good Samaritan law, Dayton said.

Alexander, Dell and others say there is no substance to that argument.

"Whatever they're saying about the tax-exempt status and Good Samaritan laws doesn't hold water," said Mike Clapsaddle, president of Taneytown Volunteer Fire Company. "Attorneys from the other stations have checked and didn't find any problems. Everybody voted for billing at the convention last year, and I don't think they should back out now."

Another concern of the Reese company was the ability of residents to pay ambulance fees, which average $300 and can be higher, depending on the level of care needed.

"We're concerned about people on Medicare and Medicaid who come from the old school and feel obligated to pay," Dayton said.

Dayton said insurance companies are cracking down on what they will pay for.

Alexander said Reese's decision could create problems when other companies answer calls in its area and charge clients, or when Reese takes calls in areas that bill.

The Sykesville-Freedom District Fire Company was opposed to billing last year but began doing so Feb. 1.

"Once the county puts pressure on you and you're running 1,600 calls a year with two ambulances, there's not a lot we can do. We depend on the funding," said Bob Althoff, Sykesville-Freedom president.

Alexander said Reese's decision not to bill will be on the agenda at Monday's firemen's association meeting.

"I'm upset, but I will go against my own company on this," said Alexander, a 40-plus year member of the Reese company. "This was voted on by the association board for all the companies to go on line by July 1."

Pub Date: 2/24/99

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