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Arnold ambulance service turns to volunteers

| Friday, March 8, 2013, 1:21 a.m.

The Arnold Fire-EMS ambulance service is operating on a volunteer basis while the company is being restructured.

Gary Harrison, chairman of the service's board, said the ambulance service is dealing with financial problems and needed to lay off the paid employees while they developed a plan for moving forward.

“We're doing some restructuring,” Harrison said. “We didn't close down or go bankrupt or lose our license — which is what some of the rumors have been.”

Harrison said he notified Westmoreland County's 911 dispatching center this week that Arnold Fire-EMS is a voluntary service and should be jointly dispatched with New Kensington's ambulance service.

A New Kensington ambulance representative did not return a call for comment Thursday.

Dan Stevens, spokesman for Westmoreland County's emergency management, said he had not heard of Arnold Fire-EMS' change in status.

Harrison said any willing employees can go on calls as volunteers.

In addition, he said the Arnold No. 1 Volunteer Fire Company will be dispatched whenever calls involve someone who may need medical assistance such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation or an automated external defibrillator (AED) for heart problems.

Harrison, who also is fire chief of Arnold No. 1, said many firefighters also have emergency medical training. The volunteers can offer medical assistance until New Kensington paramedics arrive.

Like many other ambulance companies in the region, Harrison said his company is dealing with problems with reimbursements from health insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid running well below the actual costs of service.

Plus, with Arnold's population shrinking, the service likely can no longer justify staffing two crews 24 hours per day, Harrison said.

“There's not enough business,” he said.

One of the considerations for restructuring will be running just one crew around the clock.

Harrison couldn't immediately detail the service's operating budget or anticipated deficit. He said he recently became board chairman and, with cuts they've tried to make, the service's finances are murky.

“It's changed drastically,” he said.

He estimated the service has about 15 paid employees, some working full time and others part time.

He said they will be eligible to collect unemployment. He said many also work for other ambulance companies.

“Unfortunately, they don't make a lot of money, so many have more than one job,” he said.

Harrison did not have a time frame for when service would be restored.

“It seems to be a temporary issue we hope to have fixed in the near future,” he said.

Although not directly affiliated with Arnold No. 1, Arnold Fire-EMS board members are members of the fire company, Harrison said.

The fire station revived the ambulance service in 2006 after a prior, for-profit service went bankrupt in 2005.

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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