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Chester County Press

Collaboration and communication will be key in discussions about fire, EMS services

03/26/2019 03:00PM ● By Steven Hoffman

This page has lauded Kennett Square Mayor Matt Fetick’s work as a public servant a number of times through the years. Fetick’s positive contribution to the community was most recently illustrated by the public forum that he helped organize regarding EMS services.

Earlier this month, Dylan Ferguson, the director of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Emergency, and Medical Services, was the featured guest speaker during a presentation in which he explained how EMS services are delivered in Pennsylvania. Ferguson also talked about potential changes and challenges to the delivery systems in the future. EMS and fire services have been hot topics of discussion in Kennett Square for more than a year because a committee comprised of representatives from Kennett Square and five surrounding municipalities (Kennett Township, East Marlborough Township, Newlin Township, Pennsbury Township and Pocopson Township) has been studying fire and EMS services in the region. This regional effort is intended to ensure that fire and EMS services are being delivered as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Fetick, who has experience in his background as both a police officer and an EMT, set a productive tone for the public meeting when he stated that the goal for the evening was simply to provide useful information about EMS services in general, and not a deep dive into how EMS services should be provided in the Kennett Square region.

Ferguson provided an orderly, easy-to-understand overview about EMS services across the state. There are certainly a lot of challenges surrounding EMS services, and the challenges that Kennett Square is facing in this area certainly aren’t unique. An aging population increases the number of calls that local ambulance divisions are being asked to respond to. Generally, EMS providers are seeing a 7 percent increase in call volumes. The opioid epidemic further places demands on the system. When call volumes increase, there is a point where the staffing for ambulance divisions needs to increase as well to ensure a prompt response to an emergency. If one ambulance is out on the road responding to emergencies too frequently, a second ambulance might be necessary. It costs money to buy the equipment and to staff the vehicles.

Most ambulance divisions rely heavily on volunteers—this is true of fire companies, too. But the number of volunteers has decreased dramatically in the last few decades. Ferguson outlined a number of societal changes that have resulted in fewer volunteers. Again, the Kennett Square region is not alone on this.

The training requirements that first responders must adhere to have increased greatly—which is a good thing, but it also increases costs for fire and ambulance divisions, and places an even greater burden on the volunteers.

As demand for fire and EMS services increases, and the number of volunteers decrease, the costs of operating fire and ambulance divisions explode because more professional staffing is utilized. That translates into higher costs for municipalities.

Billing for EMS services is another major issue, with legislative actions by state lawmakers needed to ensure equitable reimbursements for EMS agencies and fair costs for citizens.

It’s easy to understand why discussions about fire and EMS services can be filled with emotion. When a person picks up the telephone to dial 911, all that matters is a fast response by people who can provide the care and treatment needed. Sometimes, lives hang in the balance. And even if it’s not a life-or-death situation, a prompt response is vitally important. As Ferguson explained, it’s all about getting the right care to the right person at the right time.

But there are also cost considerations that have to be factored in because fire and EMS services, while important, are not the only services that matter. Each fire and ambulance division must operate in such a way that, financially, they can continue to provide their services to the community. During his presentation, Ferguson outlined the elements of a viable EMS system. This is of particular interest for residents in the Kennett Square region because decisions about how to maintain viable EMS divisions (and fire companies) are looming.

In the coming months, there will be conversations taking place in the Kennett Square region about the level of fire and EMS services that are needed, and what the community can afford. The presentation by Ferguson provided some valuable information for officials and residents to consider.

Ultimately, it will be up to the Kennett Square community to determine how its fire and EMS needs will be met. If conversations about fire and EMS services can be approached in a thoughtful and collaborative way, it will help produce better decisions in the long run.