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Fees for rescue services advance

Frederick County supervisors, fire association OK plan

By Candace Sipos -- csipos@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- Frederick County officials are getting closer than they've been before to charging for ambulance rides, a system that has been in place for years in many surrounding localities.

At a joint meeting of the Fire and Rescue Association and the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday, board members gave unanimous support to continuing the years-long talk and research on the subject, called revenue recovery or fee for service, although some of them still have concerns.

"Too much work has been put into this to let it go this time," said Supervisor Gene Fisher. "I think this thing needs to get a good hard look again."

Chairman Richard Shickle said he supports investigating revenue recovery further in part because communication with the public has been better than it was about five years ago, when the association previously brought the issue before the board.

"I'm not sure that everything that raised its head last time would be a reason [against fee for service] this time," Shickle said.

One of the reasons the measure didn't make it further in the past was because not all individual fire companies were on board.

"The last time this came up to the board ... I believe the board did not pursue it because they felt there was too much dissent," Shickle said.

"There has been one company that has come out publicly and said ... 'No way, shape or form,'" said Chester Lauck, deputy emergency management coordinator for the county. He explained that others were not adamantly against the idea but had not been convinced it was the best way to go.

Lauck said the committee, ranging from seven to 22 members, that has been investigating this change for more than a year has tried to address every company's concerns.

Supervisor Gary Lofton expressed concern that the plan would not bring enough firefighters into the program to raise the numbers to even 75 percent of what's needed to adhere to the National Fire Protection Association's standards.

"This really does not appear to address the manpower," he said, noting that the county needs 19 additional firefighters to reach that goal. "We're talking about six employees."
If the program receives the expected funding, which is roughly 70 percent of whatever is billed for services, the county could afford to hire one billing manager for about $45,000 and six firefighters, each making roughly $54,000.

"It'll keep the volunteer stations open," said Bob Hall, president of Millwood Station Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company. "If the volunteer stations go under, you'll need a lot more manpower than 19."

Roughly 25 percent of the collected funds would go to the county, earmarked for fire and rescue use.

Sixty-five percent would be divided between all participating stations, 7 percent would go to the billing company and 3 percent would be used for EMS supplies in the initial breakdown.

But officials say the numbers are not set in stone.

Rides would range from $400 to $600, depending on the level of assistance needed, in addition to $9 per mile to the hospital. Lauck said no Frederick County residents would see out-of-pocket expenses for the services and those without insurance would not be required to pay.

According to Lauck, the city of Winchester has implemented the fee-for-service program for at least three years.

While Clarke and Page counties do not charge for ambulance rides, Warren and Fairfax counties do. Shenandoah County is in the process of starting to charge, Lauck said.

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