By Sue Botos
Rocky River fire Chief Chris Flynn may be getting at least one item on his wish list in 2014, in the form of a new ambulance.
During the city’s recent budget hearing, Capital Projects and Equipment Committee Chairman John Shepherd announced that an estimated $1.3 million was needed for maintenance and purchase of city vehicles and other gear, but only $462,000 will be available in the streamlined 2014 financial plan. He said that $150,000 of that amount is slated to go toward a new ambulance.
Flynn told council at its Dec. 9 session that there are currently three ambulances in the city fleet. On a rotating basis, two vehicles are on call, while the third spends a month off. During that time, it is sent to the city service garage for maintenance.
While two of the vehicles were purchased in 2002, Flynn said that one had its chassis and front end replaced after a 2006 accident, and that the unit with all original 2002 parts will be replaced. The third ambulance was acquired by the city in 2007.
There was some discussion last year of replacing the chassis of the oldest ambulance while keeping the “box,” which carries the patient, and updating that component with the installation of money savers such as LED lights. Flynn told West Life that this could still be an option.
Although the unit marked for replacement has racked up only 50,000 miles, Flynn noted, “These are hard miles. They sit stone cold, then spring into action.” He pointed out that, on average, the ambulances make six to eight daily runs, amounting to about 2,000 yearly. However, he said there has been an uptick, with 2,200 already recorded for 2013.
In addition to these trips, Flynn said there were also between 500 and 600 “nonemergency” runs for random calls. Since these calls do not provide patient transportation, they do not require an ambulance fee.
Flynn also noted that the department will be saving funds through a new agreement with Life Force Management, which provides ambulance billing. Under this contract, the amount charged to the city for collection of fees has been lowered from 7 percent to 6 percent. The use of iPads for immediate reporting and other technology is responsible for this reduction, according to Flynn. He added that the amount of savings will be available at the beginning of the year.
In addition, Flynn reported that the department is now able to charge Medicare and Medicaid up to $10 per mile for patient transportation.
While Flynn may cross off an ambulance from his wish list, a new ladder truck remains. Referring to the projected life of this equipment, Flynn pointed out, “The standard says 20 years, and ours is 20 years (old).”
He continued that, unlike an ambulance, a ladder truck’s use can’t be extended too much by replacement of parts and maintenance. “I don’t know. We have to figure out something,” Flynn stated, noting that a grant for a new vehicle had been turned down. He estimated that a new truck could cost in the neighborhood of $1 million.
While collaboration with other communities on the purchase of large-scale equipment such as a ladder truck has been discussed, Flynn told West Life that there are a number of logistical issues to work out first, such as housing the vehicle, responsibility for maintenance, operating personnel and the protocol to be followed if needed by multiple communities at one time.
Aside from equipment needs, Flynn pointed out that overtime has hit the department hard, due to a resignation of a firefighter plus extended leave for injury and personal reasons for two more. He said that a part-time replacement for the injured firefighter has helped, but there is just $10,000 in the continuing education fund. He said it’s hoped that some firefighters will offer to attend classes on their own time.
Council Safety Committee Chairman Tom Hunt responded, “As tight as the budget is and will be, we will not lack in educational opportunities.”