The expected merger of the Stillwater Rescue Squad and Malta Ambulance Corps isn’t a big deal, insofar as the latter has been essentially covering the former’s emergency medical calls for years now. But it could set an important precedent for similar communities within Saratoga County and others in the region where there appear to be a number of relatively small fire and EMS operations, which, by definition, tend to be inefficient.
When you have a large number of small fire or ambulance companies, each with its own board, its own set of administrators, its own responders and its own equipment, the overall cost has to be higher than if you have just a handful of them. Granted, they can’t all use the same people or equipment, but there is huge potential for economies of scale when municipal boundaries are ignored and forces are combined.
Doing so also addresses the issue of volunteer shortages. As Stillwater’s all-volunteer squad gradually became a no-volunteer squad over the last decade, it reached out to Malta for more and more assistance. Now its board is ready to call it quits and make the merger arrangement formal — and permanent. The annual payments of $127,000 the town of Stillwater had been making to the rescue squad will instead go directly to the Malta Ambulance Corps, which had been charging the Stillwater squad $150 per call. The same people will be driving the same ambulances, which will be headquartered at the same place.
Taxpayers in Saratoga County (which maintains upwards of two dozen fire departments and more than 11 EMS squads) should hope that this marriage serves as a precedent for other communities. And, frankly, Saratoga County is hardly alone in having more separate fire and EMS bureacracies than it really needs. (For example, there are eight — count ’em — volunteer fire companies in the town of Rotterdam alone.) These operations simply cost too much money for all the duplication of service they provide.