The Fair Play Ambulance Cost Recovery Act sitting before the State Assembly is an idea whose time has come to be implemented.

The bill, sponsored by State Assemblyman D. Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay Lake) would enable fire departments to recover costs associated with providing ambulance services.

According to the Firemen's Association of the State of New York, fire departments are the only ambulance service providers in the state that cannot bill for those services. The organization says the bill would help the departments recoup $100 million in EMS costs, about $3 million of which would go to North Country departments that provide ambulance services.

Currently, fire districts have to go to taxpayers in order to absorb those costs.

Jones said the idea behind the Fair Play Ambulance Cost Recovery Act has been around for decades, with its current iteration in place for likely the last 15 years.

“All this bill does is it eliminates the prohibition behind volunteer fire departments billing for ambulatory services," he said at a recent news conference touting the bill.

"It’s as simple as that. Without this, we could face a possibility someday of no one responding to a call, no one being on the end of that call to get our loved ones the medical care that they need in their most desperate time of need. We do not want that."

With volunteer ambulance services not being able to bill for calls, the fire department that they are associated with must absorb the cost, which can be great.

For example, Altona Fire District Board of Fire Commissioners Chair Ryan Blondo said roughly two-thirds of the district’s operating budget — around $500,000 to $600,000 — is earmarked for its EMS service, leaving just one-third to maintain the fire house and rigs, cover insurance and pay other bills.

Blondo said the financial situation is so dire that the district relies on the support of the volunteers, who fundraise to provide essential equipment like the brush truck and an all-terrain vehicle currently housed at the station.

Fundraising that much money can put a strain on an already-stressed department, and we don't need that when it comes to life-saving duties.

New York is the only state in the nation that does not give its fire districts authorization to bill for pre-hospital ambulance treatment.

Commercial ambulance providers argue that the Fair Play Ambulance Cost Recovery Act would encroach on their business.

That could be an issue to address in larger communities where there are more commercial ambulance providers, but in the North Country, many communities rely on fire district volunteer ambulance services.

These volunteer crews need the opportunity to bill for their work in order to sustain a budget, and continue to provide a critical service.

Generating revenue from ambulance calls would also lesson the burden on the firefighting aspect of local departments.

The Senate version of the bill, cosponsored by State Sen. Dan Stec (R-Queensbury) passed 61 to 2 in June.

Jones’ Assembly version has more than 60 cosponsors and multi-sponsors, including Assemblyman Matt Simpson (R-Horicon), and received unanimous support from the Assembly's Committee on Local Governments.

The Assembly would have to pass the bill by the end of the year for it to make it to the governor's desk. Otherwise, both houses of the legislature would need to pass it again next session.

The bill is supported not only by Fire Districts in the North Country, but by those across the state.

Hopefully it makes its way into state law, and gives volunteer ambulance crews an opportunity to better sustain themselves because local lives may depend on it.


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