With transportation costs continuing to rise, the Springfield Township Fire Department is proposing to institute ambulance transport fees as an alternative to an additional fire department levy.
At an April 13 meeting of the Holland Springfield Rotary Club, Fire Chief Barry Cousino and Assistant Fire Chief Rick Helminski discussed the proposal.
Chief Cousino pointed out that over the years the department has accomplished a lot.
In 1997 the department established its own communication division to improve response time. Prior to that, the department used the Lucas County sheriff's office. "But we were often delayed due to the priority of the sheriff's calls," he explained.
Also in 1997, the fire department went from an all-volunteer force to part-time employees. By 2005 the need to serve the community had grown, and the department began to use full-time personnel.
The current staff of 41 full-time, 22 part-time and 21 paid-per-call personnel are very skilled, said the chief. "Sixty-four of our members have the highest level of professional training," he added.
Training has changed a lot over the years, especially since 9/11, he said. In addition to new techniques for fire fighting, personnel are trained to respond to nuclear, chemical and biological disasters.
"We're dealing with a lot more than we used to in the old days," said Chief Cousino.
Training is not limited to members of the fire department. "We offer outreach programs [to the community]," he said.
Those courses include training in CPR, fire extinguisher usage and the use of automatic electronic defibrillators.
The department also works in conjunction with Holland's Police Department to provide classes for children through the annual Safety Town Program.
Using their fire safety trailer, they also instruct children on the safest way to exit a burning building.
To continue to provide these services at the same level, the chief said it has become necessary to institute ambulance fees to cover transportation costs.
He noted that most local townships and municipalities already charge for the service.
Charges for the service would be sent to the patient's insurance company for collection, he explained. "No patient should ever receive a bill."
The chief expects the new rates to generate about $300,000 annually for the department and added that the fee will be no more than $500.
No one will be denied transport or top quality care because of inability to pay, he continued.
He said the department will bill the insurance company and accept the payment that is made. The remaining balance will be written off, as will the balance for any uninsured patient.
In 2006, the fire department handled 900 transports, 27 percent of which were for non-township residents.