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Proposed ambulance standards could be pricey

| Friday, March 29, 2013, 11:06 a.m.

Diane Fitzhenry likes to be prepared.

As supervisor of Penn Hills Emergency Medical Services, she has to be. But new guidelines on ambulance standards, under review by the National Fire Protection Association, are causing some anxiety for Fitzhenry and emergency personnel across the state.

“Everybody knows that new requirements are going to cost money, but nobody can actually put a dollar figure to that,” Fitzhenry said.

Ambulances are licensed by the state, and in Pennsylvania, those ambulances are required to comply with KKK-A-1822F federal regulations, which specify how to properly construct an ambulance.

That standard was set to expire in October 2013, according to Mel Musulin, assistant director at the Valley Ambulance Authority, established in 1972 as the nation's first municipal ambulance authority.

The expiration deadline for 1822 standards has been extended until July 2014, and any major change would not take place without at least a year's notice, said Holli Senior, deputy press secretary for the state Department of Health.

“We changed the EMS Act back in 2009 to have very general language that is set by the state. So, at this time, there are no changes and we will continue to watch national trends,” Senior said, adding that state officials would work with the Pennsylvania EMS Advisory Council, regional EMS councils and the Ambulance Association of Pennsylvania in making changes meet the standards.

Fitzhenry said her initial concern was that the state might adopt NFPA standards this summer, but that does not appear to be the case.

But if the NFPA standards are adopted, emergency responders' main concern will be the same: cost.

Among the NFPA's proposals is a roll/sway control system. Musulin said it sounds like a good idea, “but there are a lot of people who work on ambulances. You may have a Chevy chassis, and then an ambulance company will retrofit it with other things.

“At that point, who is responsible for the add-ons and how they function?” he asked.

In Penn Hills, the municipality has purchased two 2011-model ambulances and one 2013 model in the past three years. They are outfitted according to federal 1822 specifications, Fitzhenry said.

If the state adopts NFPA standards, however, it would add to the cost of all three vehicles.

“There's really nothing we can do until we get clear-cut guidelines and find out whether states are going to adopt the new NFPA standards or not,” Fitzhenry said. “So we're kind of in limbo as far as the requirements.”

Musulin said he is not against the proposals, just uncertain.

“A lot of the things they're proposing are good, but nobody knows how it's going to be done,” he said.

Fitzhenry put it plainly.

“There's a lot of anxiety,” she said.

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or pvarine@tribweb.com.

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