This coming April, new emergency medical services regulations go into effect that have the potential to greatly effect, and potentially restrict, local ambulance response.
Todd Lake, Warren County public safety director, explained that a couple of the most challenging new regulations require volunteer entities to provide 24/7 coverage as well as be Department of Health certified.
"My standpoint, from my office and my reading and my interpretation, those departments, if they do not opt to certify... they would be in violation of the EMS Act and would be practicing without a license."
While all but five county departments Bear Lake, Cherry Grove, Columbus, Starbrick and Spring Creek not certified, the 24/7 coverage requirement, according to Lake, could affect those that are certified because of "low volunteerism."
Not complying with the regulations would mean that "they would be susceptible to civil penalties," Lake said.
"Unfortunately, what is happening is the most rural areas are going to be the most impacted," Fire Services Committee Chairman Paul Pascuzzi said.
The City of Warren isn't exempt.
Warren Fire Chief Sam Pascuzzi said that when the regulations were passed, many EMS agencies expressed concern. With the effective date coming, the challenges are on the horizon.
"For the Warren Fire Department, the new requirements will add significant administrative work, and some cost for training and equipment," he said. "The new act mandates 24/7 staffing and provision of service which may further strain agencies short on personnel."
For Lake, there is no law that will prohibit him from dispatching a department that is not adhering to the new regulations. "That's going to be an area of contention," he said, indicating that he would not dispatch one of those non-certified agencies "unless a municipality wants them dispatched... if the municipality wants to take on the liability of providing medical coverage without a license."
Paul Pascuzzi said he expects further regulation to come down the pipeline that will "limit volunteer fire department service." He said that private enterprise could possibly be looked to in the future to provide these services though he said that volunteers are most effective.
With the April date coming, certification can still be obtained. "It's going to be up to them (the departments not certified) to become certified," said Lake. "They are aware... but it's if they have enough people."
If there is a silver lining to the new regulations, as Sam Pascuzzi noted, "the Act does contain provisions which promote partnering between agencies in order to help meet the service requirements."
In Warren County, that is already happening as the Fire Services Committee has divided the departments into regions. And, in spite of the challenges, Sam Pascuzzi said that everyone's goal is still the same.
"I think whether career or volunteer, all agencies in Warren County go about their business professionally and share common concerns, such as (the) ability to recruit and retain sufficient personnel, escalating cost and desire to provide quality service. Partnering between agencies is a direction that may hold collective benefit for all in addressing these issues. Many agencies in Warren County, including our department, have been looking at closer cooperation and I think are likely to continue to do so."