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Township Council Debates Providing Free Gasoline to Franklin-Somerset First Aid Squad

First Aid Squad

Franklin-Somerset First Aid Squad member Evan Shegoski addresses the Township Council.

The township and the Franklin-Somerset First Aid Squad are on the verge of a deal over two ambulances, but some details still have to be worked out.

Township Council members at the Nov. 26 council meeting seemed amenable to the idea of selling two 1990s-era ambulances to the squad for $4,000 each. The only sticking point is who would pay for the fuel once the squad takes title to the vehicles.

The squad wants to be able to use township refueling facilities, but some council members say they’re not sure that’s legal.

The reason is that the squad charges for some of its calls. The squad already uses the two township-owned ambulances for some of its calls, but is precluded from using them on calls where the patients are going to be charged.

The first aid squad also maintains the two ambulances, spending thousands of dollars a year on their upkeep, squad member Evan Shegoski told the council at the meeting.

Township manager Bob Vornlocker said the township’s Emergency Life Support committee – which oversees the township-owned ambulances – recommended that the squad be able to purchase the ambulances and to buy gasoline at the lower, state-contracted rate, but that didn’t seem to sit well with Shegoski.

“I don’t think it’s too much to ask for fuel,” he said.

Shegoski said he was not certain how much the squad spent on fuel each year.

Shegoski told the council that although the squad does bill for some of its calls, it’s not aggressive in collecting the debt.

“Our billing policy is people get up to three bills,” he said. “If they cannot pay it, nothing happens. If they call and say, ‘I can’t afford it’, we write it off.”

Shegoski said the main reasons the squad wants to buy the ambulances is to improve response times and be able to make any needed repairs faster.

He said the squad sometimes cannot go out on calls because the vehicles do not start.

One time recently, he said, an ambulance wouldn’t start and the squad had to send out a call for mutual aid.

He said one of the vehicles, built in 1996, burst into flames once.

Now, he said, the squad must go through the township’s procurement system to get needed parts. That once resulted in a two-month wait for a part, he said.

If the squad owned the ambulances outright, Shegoski said, that wait would be significantly reduced.

“So this is really critical,” Deputy Mayor Roz Sherman (Ward 2) asked Shegoski.

“It is,” he said.

Councilman Phil Kramer (Ward 3) said he had no problem with selling the ambulances to the squad, or with the squad charging for calls, although, he said. “there is no requirement that you charge.”

Councilman Rajiv Prasad (At-Large) said he would not want to be a patient in one of those ambulances when it broke down, “and get towed to the township garage instead of taken to the hospital.”

“I don’t think we need that liability,” he said. “If it was up to me, I’d say give them the ambulances for free.”

Councilman James Vassanella (Ward 5) said he supports selling the vehicles to the squad, but he wants more “clarity on the gas issue.”

Township attorney Louis Rainone said the council can give the squad up to $35,000 a year for “non-capital expenses.”

Rainone said he didn’t think there would be a problem in providing gasoline for the ambulances if the squad buys them, “because of the service they provide.”

Councilwoman Kimberly Francois (At-Large) said the council should not vote on whether to provide the squad with gasoline until the Public Safety Committee has had a chance to look into the matter.

The rest of the council agreed, and the vote was unanimous to sell the ambulances to the squad, pending resolution of the gasoline question.

 

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