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Officials launch salvo over EMS coverage

Times Observer file photo The City of Warren on Tuesday said it may seek state permission to no longer be required to respond to EMS calls outside the city limits.

The City of Warren has threatened several municipalities throughout the county with the prospect of seeking state permission to no longer be required to respond to EMS calls outside city limits.

Two letters were sent to municipal officials on Tuesday — one from City Manager Nancy Freenock and another drafted by legal counsel — that would petition the state to no longer require the city to respond with its ambulance outside the city.

Freenock’s letter states, though, that the other letter to the state won’t yet be sent — it’ll go before the city council later this month.

Supervisors in Brokenstraw, Conewango, Glade, Mead, Pine Grove, Pleasant, Sheffield and Youngsville were sent the letters digitally on Tuesday, according to city staff.

Freenock’s letter reiterated that “there has been a significant and steady increase in the number of incidences of the City of Warren Fire Department being called to locations outside of the City in response to EMS dispatches.”

She detailed that the city “does not receive sufficient compensation to cover the expense of these calls.”

“As a result,” she continued, “the taxpayers of the City of Warren are subsidizing a necessary public safety service which your municipality is statutorily obligated to provide. This places an unjust and unfair burden on the taxpayers of the City for which no reciprocal benefit is received.”

The second letter is addressed to the state Bureau of Emergency Medical Services, part of the Department of Health.

“Due to its limited 911 ambulance response capability,” that letter argues, “including the risk to public safety for City residents who pay for the availability of emergency ambulance service, the WFD (Warren Fire Department) is requesting an exception to this regulatory provision. The exception requested is that the WFD not be required to respond to PSAP (911 center) dispatches for emergency basic life support (BLS) ambulance services to locations outside the City of Warren.”

“The letter requests relief from the situation that has been foisted upon the City as a direct result of other municipalities’ unmet obligations,” Freenock said. “During its regular meeting on May 17, 2021, Warren City Council will vote on whether to mail this letter.”

The letter to the state offers many stinging indictments of the status of the EMS system in the county.

“The sad and dangerous irony of this situation is that with the WFD’s compliance with the regulatory requirement that it respond to all 911 dispatches to locations outside the City, there is absolutely no incentive for the surrounding municipalities to make the necessary provisions and incur the appropriate costs to provide their own citizens with adequate emergency BLS ambulance service,” the city asserts.

It asked the state to permit it to not respond outside the city but, if that request is denied, also asks that the Department of Health let the city not respond when only one of the city’s two ambulances is in the city.

“Most importantly, the City simply cannot continue to provide 911 ambulance services outside the City without jeopardizing the health, safety and welfare of its own taxpayers under circumstances that have been getting worse for quite some time now,” the letter asserts. “If DOH does not grant any of the relief requested, WFD will need to consider other remedies available to it, including withdrawing from the Response Plan.”

The potential filing with the state indicates that without relief the city will ask the state “to take appropriate disciplinary action against other EMS agencies in the County that do not satisfy their statutory and regulatory obligations under the EMS System Act. This is an action that Warren City Council will take with much regret.”

“I believe you are aware that the City has consistently tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to work with neighboring municipalities to develop an equitable solution to the EMS crisis in Warren County,” Freenock added. “The City remains willing to engage in conversations that would result in sharing the burden of EMS response; we will not, however, do so at the expense of City taxpayers.”

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