Tredyffrin Township Supervisor Candidate Question #2: How to Fund Fire & Emergency Medical Services (EMS)

List of candidates running for Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors – voters will select one district supervisor from the East, one district supervisor from the West and two At-Large supervisors. See Question #2 and the candidate responses below.

DISTRICT SUPERVISOR 1st DISTRICT (EAST) CANDIDATES
Julie Gosse (D)
Raffi Terzian (R)

TOWNSHIP SUPERVISOR AT-LARGE CANDIDATES
Mark Freed (D)
Sharon Humble (D)
Gina Mazzulla (R)
Liz Mercogliano (R)

DISTRICT SUPERVISOR 3rd DISTRICT (WEST) CANDIDATES
K. S. Bhaskar (D)
Peter DiLullo (R)
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2. The Fire Companies that serve our township are facing declining financial reserves, increasing expenses and staffing shortfalls which directly impact its ability to provide essential fire, rescue and emergency medical services to the community. As a supervisor, how would you improve the situation for our volunteer fire companies – please be specific.

K. S. Bhaskar Response:
As firefighting and emergency medical services are complex jobs requiring substantial training, career professionals are necessarily a significant part of our first responder force, like our police. In my discussions with voters, I find that many are not aware that fire companies are separate 501(c)(3) entities that raise funds from individuals as well as from the township. Most individuals are unaware that the donations they make – if they make any – are wholly inadequate. I would start by better educating our voters, to help decide what long term solution(s) might work. Our fire companies and township will be key participants in the process. For example, should we stay with the current model, or should we bring emergency services under the purview of the township? If voters pay more for more professional emergency services, will they also seek the increased accountability that goes with increased cost?

Peter DiLullo Response:
The safety of our township residents is paramount and our local fire companies need to be supported in order to provide the response times and service that we expect in Tredyffrin. These companies face headwinds including an aging population, dwindling volunteer base, several new assisted living facilities, and escalating equipment cost. The Board of Supervisors needs to be transparent with residents on the issue and provide the support necessary to keep our residents safe.

Mark Freed Response:
As supervisors we need to assure that we have fire companies that can properly serve our residents, and that the fire companies have the funding and other resources they need to do so. Since I joined the Board in 2014, Township combined cash contributions to Berwyn Fire Company and Paoli Fire Company have increased more than 70%. Most recently, as a member of the Tredyffrin and Easttown Joint Emergency Services Plan Committee, I supported funding Berwyn Fire Company’s new Old Forge Crossing substation to help improve the fire company’s response times in Chesterbrook, Glenhardie and other surrounding areas. I am also supporting the funding of Paoli Fire Company’s new Advanced Life Support (ALS) services. We must continue to help our fire companies obtain sustainable funding sources and create incentives to increase its volunteers, by working with state, county and other municipal governments, as well as the fire companies themselves.

Julie Gosse Response:
I propose taking a two-pronged approach to improving our fire and emergency services: (1) align funding with utilization and a changing volunteer/career professional makeup and (2) improve our fire infrastructure to reflect our current population and service needs. First, the utilization and staffing of volunteer fire companies continue to shift. We, as a township, need to keep pace. To this end, I have collected data from our fire companies and have started building and refining objective models for prudent township funding, with the goal of providing sustainable support that our fire companies can count on. Second, our current fire/EMS infrastructure does not optimally serve our residents. Fire stations were built on the Rt. 30 corridor based on the population decades ago, which has changed dramatically with Chesterbrook and other developments. I will work with our fire companies to develop a strategic plan to rethink our fire/EMS infrastructure.

Sharon Humble Response:
The PA Auditor General’s recent release to Tredyffrin volunteer fire companies of a large amount of funding from a 2% tax on fire insurance premiums was a good start for improving our VFRAs’ standing. Ambulance billing accounts for approximately 37% of Berwyn Fire Co’s income sources, yet many of these receivables are never paid by the service beneficiaries. Tredyffrin’s Fire Companies should contract with reputable collections attorneys who work on a contingency basis to collect these unpaid receivables. Tredyffrin should work with State legislators to require insurance companies to pay, directly to the Fire Companies, the fees for responding ambulance service when they treat a patient at the scene, including in cases in which the patient declines transport to a hospital. Township contributions to its Fire Companies should be increased, and I’d seek greater corporate sponsorship, including “naming rights” on fire trucks.

Gina Mazzulla Response:
As a former EMT and current business member of the Berwyn Fire Company, and having served on the VRA board at GFAC (West Chester), I see first-hand the changing reality from (unpaid) volunteer service to a (paid) professional services business, akin to the police department.

I am not suggesting that fire companies become “employees” of the township but I am suggesting that they are funded in a similar manner with fire company leadership involved in the budgeting process to the same degree as other department heads. If existing dollars cannot be “found”, I am not opposed to implementing a specific and reasonable fee to ensure for long-term provision of capital equipment, life-saving technologies, and skilled paramedic professionals to serve our community.

One reason for a decline in the number of volunteers is the cost of living in Tredyffrin, forcing many who grew up in the fire service to move away for more affordable housing. I propose a township “tax relief” benefit for verified volunteer fire and EMS personnel as a measure of support to encourage increased and sustained volunteerism.

Liz Mercogliano Response:
The solution for fire and rescue lies in the consolidation of resources and an optional flat fee for fire and rescue included in the township tax bill. There should be an exception for hardship. The consolidation and merger of some services can be approved through the Board of Trustees for Paoli, Radnor and Berwyn Fire and the local townships.

Since the PA State law mandates the emergency services, it is not an option to NOT fund fire and rescue. And, since there is a larger population and an aging population the services are needed. As per best practices, the annual budget review can track revenue sources and deficits and point to trends. Here are several revenue sources that help but do not close the gap:
• The Pennsylvania State Firefighter Insurance fund
• Fundraisers
• Emergency medical service billing for ambulance services
• Community donations

These sources are just not enough to prevent deficits and a possibility of closing a single fire company. I vote for more State funding by earmarking specific need, grants and a flat fee.

Raffi Terzian Response:
We are so fortunate to have such a dedicated group of volunteers and career Fire and EMS personnel who serve our community. Public safety should be a top priority and the services provided by the Radnor, Berwyn and Paoli Fire Companies must be viewed as an essential service by our community and the Board of Supervisors. In the short-term, budget planning must include a focus on funding this essential service. In addition, a plan must be established to ensure the solvency of these organizations in the long-term.

As a Board Certified Emergency Physician, I have first-hand experience working with EMS systems and providers directly. I am aware and have an understanding of the billing challenges that our fire companies face. The Board of Supervisors should lead the way in creating a comprehensive plan that better coordinates services and promotes dialogue and cooperation among our fire companies.

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  1. Thank you Pattye for this community service for the voters! It’s remarkable that ALL the supervisor candidates and ALL the school board candidates are participating and responded to your questions. Without a League of Women Voters forum available, your work is all the more important! People need to do their homework before going to polls and know who they are voting for, especially the school board! Looking forward to seeing the questions (and answers!) from the school board candidates.

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  2. Another critical question. It is the duty of the Supervisors to assure the provision of emergency services with the best service levels afforded by the funding the community is willing to provide. So suggestions here to integrate the fire companies into the budget process – and so continue to increase transparency – seem to make sense. The balance of service levels and cost should be made explicit.

    Last Monday’s BOS authorization of Paoli Fire Company to provide ALS in their service area in place of Malvern was instructive. For those of us in the west this seems excellent news, but what are the underlying economics? What is the incremental fixed cost, what revenues will PFC receive? Based on what assumptions about call volume, billing rates and collection percentage? And so what could be the impact on the Township budget?

    Some level of tax relief for volunteers seems like a nice idea.

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