Three Harford County fire and EMS companies are asking for more funding from the county government so they can potentially double the size of their ambulance crews, the county's public safety commission chairman Tony Bennett said Monday.
Those companies are the only ones that do not depend on the Harford County Volunteer Fire & EMS Foundation to provide emergency medical services, Bennett said.
For all the other companies, the recently-created foundation functions as an employment agency to provide emergency personnel to them when needed, he said.
Bel Air, Aberdeen and Joppa-Magnolia have "private" EMS employees, for which the foundation provides funding to support, he said.
The need for ambulance service has increased as the county has grown in population and more medical services, like Patient First, have continued to pop up, Bennett, a member of the Aberdeen company, said.
For Aberdeen's company, for example, the new Lorien Bulle Rock Skilled Nursing Center on Route 40 is expected to push ambulance requests over the edge, Bennett said.
Lorien, which is set to open in June, is in the first response area for the Havre de Grace Ambulance Corps, according to an Ambulance Corps spokesman Mark Hemler; however, Aberdeen would be the second company alerted if the Ambulance Corps is already on call, Hemler said Wednesday.
"We think that one will take us over the tipping point," Bennett said of Lorien. "Our concern is that, because of the nature of what they are, nursing homes use a tremendous amount of ambulance support. We will have an ambulance basically parked there all the time."
Aberdeen has a two-unit ambulance crew and hopes to take on two more people. Bel Air has four crews total. Joppa also said its paid employees staff one advanced life support unit with one paramedic and one EMT 24 hours a day, as well as one basic life support unit with two EMTs from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
"We have requested assistance in staffing a second paramedic position. The second paramedic would replace the second EMT on our BLS unit, turning it into an ALS unit. After reviewing our call responses, we may consider making the second unit 24 hours as well," Joppa-Magnolia chief Ryan Barrow said in an e-mail.
"In most big jurisdictions, the fire departments are basically the dog and the EMS is the tail, but the tail wags the dog. That didn't used to be the case," Bennett said, noting 25 years ago, EMS was far less needed.
"As your call volume grows, you don't have enough [crews] to take us over the tipping point," he said. "It's just more people in Harford County, it's bigger than it used to be and our population ages."
With operations like Patient First or a dialysis center, "you are congregating sick people at these locations."
The county provides more than $2 million in funding for the foundation each year, he said.
The three companies' request is expected to come up at Thursday's budget work session before the Harford County Council.
Bennett said it would not come up at a public safety commission meeting. The commission's most recent monthly meeting was held last Thursday in Havre de Grace.
"It wouldn't come up because it's an operational issue and our job is to make recommendations to the county executive," he said.
Although the three companies don't get any services from the foundation, "because it's county funding and it was identified solely to go toward EMS issues, [the county] felt it was important for those companies. Even though they don't use EMS people, they are still part of the EMS system," he said.
The money does, however, appear to be a sticking point between the three companies, the foundation and the county administration.
When County Councilman Jim McMahan, who represents Bel Air, tried to bring up the request to County Executive David Craig at the council's initial budget work session on April 23, Craig said that questions about funding still remained from the foundation's expensive and unsuccessful attempt to keep the paid crews under its supervision from voting in a union to represent them.
Craig also said there are "a lot of legal issues" still pending regarding the union fight that "are not resolved."
Even though McMahan said approximately $315,000 was being requested for the three fire companies, Craig said the amounts being discussed have fluctuated between $200,000 and $400,000. "There has been no specific amount [requested]," he said.
Craig also told McMahan he should direct his questions about the money to foundation representatives and the public safety director when their budgets are reviewed this Thursday.
At the most recent public safety commission meeting, the board discussed accepting the apparatus subcommittee and the purchase oversight board.
The commission also has a new website that it hopes to keep updated with its meeting minutes and other information. It is available through the county's Emergency Operations website and at HarfordPublicSafety.org.
Aegis staff member Allan Vought contributed to this article.