Johnstown ambulance service running smoothly

JOHNSTOWN — The new Johnstown Fire EMS unit has responded to about 350 calls since it began service, making only one mutual aid call outside the city, city Fire Chief Bruce Heberer reported Thursday.

The new city ambulance service consisting of one vehicle has been on duty this year. It has especially been pressed into service since two other ambulance companies in Fulton County went down, and has apparently met the challenge.

“It’s going great,” Heberer said. “Things are going very smooth. We’re busy.”

The chief said the Johnstown Fire EMS unit has handled about 350 calls since becoming operational. Although its duties are to respond to medical emergencies within the confines of the city limits, he said the ambulance will respond outside the city if needed for a medical emergency.

Heberer said the Johnstown unit responded last week to its first such mutual aid call to Gloversville.

The Johnstown Fire EMS unit has 14 full-time city firefighters who are part of the operation — 12 EMTs and two paramedics. The unit is also served by four part-time paramedics, who are not firefighters.

Asked how Johnstown Fire EMS is sustaining itself financially, Heberer responded: “The money is coming from the billing reimbursements.” He said he also has an overtime budget that is used to cover some costs.

The Common Council on March 18 approved a revenue recovery services contract with Connecticut-based Certified Ambulance Group Inc. The firm is handling billing for the Johnstown Fire EMS unit. The firm bills the patient’s private insurance, Medicare and Medicaid. The firm is providing the service to the city for an amount equal to 5.5 percent of the total monthly payments received.

Heberer and other city officials in 2018 developed a plan, and implemented it, to launch emergency medical services out of the fire station on North Perry Street. The single-ambulance service was started in January, as fiscal problems continued to be reported from the former Johnstown Area Volunteer Ambulance Corps.

The Common Council last Sept. 17 approved a $35,000 bid for a used, 2009 ambulance from Specialty Vehicles Inc. City officials at the time said they were attempting to create a limited, city-run ambulance service run out of the city Fire Department station. The new venture was termed an “advance life support first response service.”

Officials were adamant the city was not trying to replace JAVAC, which had struggled financially in recent years. The city said it hoped to have at least one ambulance staffed for city use, 24 hours per day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

JAVAC closed its doors in March, on the heels of the Gloversville-based Ambulance Service of Fulton County also shutting down for financial reasons on Feb. 8.

Heberer said Thursday that the fire department, which is “cramped,” continues to study all options for acquiring more space. That search includes the vacant, former Hi-Way Oil property at 37 N. Perry St. site, near the fire station. Officials say the city may want to build a new city Fire Department supplemental facility — along the lines of a pole barn — to house department equipment there.

But the search is not limited to that site, officials say.

“We’re looking at more space,” Heberer said.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.