Options sought

At one time there were more of them, but the city of Dunkirk now has three fire halls. Whether that remains the case will be part of a study the city is looking to have done shortly.

In April the city advertised for request for qualifications of firms interested in doing the study. As part of that process, a walkthrough was recently held of the city’s fire facilities. During Tuesday’s meeting of the Common Council Public Safety Committee, Fire Department Chief Keith Ahlstrom reported the tour had 17 firms with 27 representatives in attendance. Included were firms in Buffalo, Jamestown, Rochester, Erie, Cleveland and Albany.

“We went through all three buildings and answered any questions that they had,” Ahlstrom stated. “They have until June 4 to submit a quote on what they would charge to actually come in and do a study of what our options are; some actual engineering studies of the buildings; and give us explicit options on the cost of renovating versus what the options are for each of the buildings.

Current condition, repairs and life expectancies of the buildings are to be considered. Ahlstrom said the firms provided information on similar work they have done.

“Having the way Dave Manzella (DPW senior engineering technician) set this up gave us ample time … to review some work they’ve done, talk to some people, so when we do have the quotes in we’ll have a good feeling on the companies,” Ahlstrom added. “How big they are, how small they are, how they work with people. We’ll have been able to check their references prior to getting quotes back from them.”

Ahlstrom said it would expedite the process. Paying for a possible project is always a concern and the chief’s report on ambulance billing may provide part of the answer.

According to Ahlstrom’s figures, from Jan. 1 to May 28, 2012 the city collected $48,162 from billing 233 transports. During the Jan. 1 to May 28 period for this year, 230 transports were billed and $51,670.69 was collected, owing to a change in rate of reimbursements. The increase was just over 1 percent.

The current numbers are on track for what was budgeted for 2013 but the department is looking at moving from basic life saving status for its responders to advanced life saving qualifications. Ahlstrom said he will attend a conference in early June on ALS standards as it pertains to billing for ambulance runs.

“It is a really good networking type of thing so we don’t make the same mistakes other people made. I also have in the last month or so started reaching out to departments in New York state on the same issue because it’s an issue … that I believe is going to change in the next 10 years,” Ahlstrom reported. “My best guess would be that 10 years from now there won’t be a BLS type transport, the state Health Department professionals will have decided that ALS is what everybody needs to be. That’s going to be a new minimum type thing.”

He added it would make training harder.

“As you look at health care facilities dwindling it’s going to be more important because transports may get longer, and I’m not speaking just locally. … I should be able to report in July when I’ve learned a lot more of what some of the pitfalls are we have to look at.”

Ahlstrom said he’s already built a list of steps he believes the city needs to take to start the process.

“That’s really a decision for the mayor and council more than me because it does tie into some labor issues and some cost issues, and the cost issues are negated at the end of the line once you get there. … The last time that I ran numbers of billing what we did in 2012 … it would have been not quite tripled if we had been ALS,” he stated.

Councilman Michael Michalski asked if going to ALS would result in DFD transporting to Erie and Buffalo.

“Not necessarily, that’s a decision that depends more on Brooks,” Ahlstrom replied. “If Brooks is open, which hopefully that’s long-term … they are located in a better spot, hopefully, to survive maybe some other hospitals in the area. If they stay open, no, because we would be transporting from house to there. … I don’t think the city probably would ever want to look at, unless they were forced to, look at doing inter-facility transports.”

Michalski asked if an Alstar-type service would be required.

“Absolutely, and that’s why we got into the transport business in the first place because Alstar makes a business decision on a daily basis that if they have an inter-facility transport and it means they don’t have a local crew working, that’s fine,” the chief replied, adding inter-facility transports are where the money is. “We’re going for the low-end business. It’s a different level of care and where a transport for us ties us up for 20 minutes, interfacility can take four to six hours. I would guess that somebody would always want to be involved in that business.”

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