New Florence firefighters voice concerns
Community leaders said they fear New Florence's ambulance service is failing to cover the small community's emergency calls.
Emergency Management Director Keith Boring told council members last week that New Florence-based Laurel Valley Ambulance Service hasn't been available for emergency calls because its crew is taking non-emergency patients from one hospital to another.
Laurel Valley Ambulance Service Executive Director Christian Scheier said without the non-emergency trips, Laurel Valley would not have the funds to exist.
“We're just doing what we have to do to keep the doors open,” Scheier said.
That's not good enough, said Candace Caldwell, an emergency medical technician and firefighter with the New Florence Volunteer Fire Department.
“It's very concerning, when we're part of the fire company, and we're waiting for an ambulance to show up,” Caldwell said.
According to Scheier, Fayette Emergency Medical Service took over the Laurel Valley company four years ago, because Laurel Valley “wasn't making ends meet.”
“If we didn't have Fayette, you wouldn't have an ambulance service in this town,” he said. Laurel Valley covers Seward and New Florence boroughs and St. Clair and Fairfield townships.
Scheier said the number of the company's non-emergency transports has increased, particularly in the last few months. But the company is working on minimizing the time New Florence is not covered by Laurel Valley, he said.
When the crew does have to take an non-emergency call, a neighboring service, such as Ligonier Valley Ambulance Service, handles any emergency calls in Laurel Valley's coverage area.
“Getting an ambulance needs to be, not 30 minutes, not 20 minutes — 10 minutes or less. That's not too much to ask,” Boring said at the Nov. 13 borough Council meeting that was packed with ambulance personnel, firefighters and some residents.
Each year Laurel Valley sends a letter asking residents to donate and become members of the service to assure a quick response.
“We're all paying membership fees for them to take money on transfers,” resident Kristin Teeter said.
“But any ambulance services does the same thing,” responded Mark Blaszkowski, an emergency medical technician for Laurel Valley and Ligonier Valley ambulance services. “The problem that you're hearing of is not just here, it's everywhere.”
Boring said the borough could bring in another ambulance service and use the fire hall to house the vehicle, but council members expressed support for Laurel Valley.
“The bottom line is we're never going to find an ambulance service to stay in New Florence 24/7,” Councilman Cassidy Bliss said. “We should feel — at least I feel — very fortunate that we still have an ambulance service in New Florence. Seward doesn't. Bolivar used to, and it doesn't anymore.”
“We don't have a lease with these folks,” Councilman Roger Sheriff added. “They have to go where the money is. They're a business and the borough has nothing to do with that.”
Scheier said Laurel Valley receives about 50 emergency calls a month, which isn't enough to pay the bills.
Ultimately, council members appointed Sheriff to meet with Boring and Scheier and try to come up to a solution.
“In a small town like this, you have to utilize what you have,” Sheriff said after the meeting. “I feel like the ambulance service is doing an adequate job, but we're going to try to meet to resolve the situation and work out what will be best for the citizens of the borough.”
In other news, council members approved the 2013 preliminary budget, totaling $165,505, with no tax increase.
One mill generates about $4,000 for the borough. Last year taxes were raised 5 mills, from 11 mills to 16 mills.
There was little discussion among council members on the preliminary budget, but several workshops were held in the last few months for discussion. Those workshops were not open to the public.
Council members also approved the recreation board taking on the responsibility of the community's playground.
There was some controversy last month when officials were not sure whether the recreation board or the Lions Club was handling the scheduling and finances of the park.
Sheriff reported that the Lions Club has decided to “opt out” of the playground.
Legally, the borough must handle the checking account for the recreation board, but the board will handle scheduling for park facilities, setting rental fees and collecting them.
Jewels Phraner is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-1218 or firstname.lastname@example.org.