JOHNSTOWN -- The city's plan to establish a city-operated ambulance service has hit a snag – it doesn't have the endorsement of the city firefighters union.
The Johnstown Common Council on June 18 voted to apply for a Municipal Certificate of Need to create an ambulance service that would give first priority to responding to emergency calls in the city.
Establishing a city-run ambulance service would enable Johnstown to gain some revenue by charging for the service, with EMT and paramedic-trained firefighters operating the ambulance. The city service would also back up the ambulance service currently provided in the city by the Johnstown Area Volunteer Ambulance Corps.
But the Johnstown Firefighters Association on Thursday voted 12-8 not to participate in the ambulance service project, with 4 members not in attendance.
Johnstown Fire Chief Bruce Heberer said he knows some of the members of his department want to participate in creating the new service, but others have questions about how it would work.
"They didn't really vote it down, they just didn't vote in favor of doing it without a lot more information," Heberer said. "Ultimately, I don't know if their approval is needed, but certainly negotiations will be required."
Newly elected Firefighter Association President Jake Van Every said his members want details about how the new service would work before they agree to participate. He said some of the questions include whether there would be extra hours of work or stipend pay offered to firefighters for working the ambulance service.
"We had a preliminary vote to see how much interest there was in letting the city run an ambulance, and most of our members had a lot of questions that we didn't quite have the answers to yet, so when the topic came up for a vote, most of the members said they were not in favor of it at this time, that we wanted to get a little more information and make a more informed decision moving forward," he said. "It's still really early in the process. Basically, we need to negotiate with the city all of the details of how they want to run an ambulance out of the Fire Department."
Van Every said the union could still agree to allow its members to participate in the ambulance service on a volunteer basis, without it becoming a required duty of all firefighters.
"Some of the guys could say, 'Yes, I want to do it,' and if we come up with a deal with the city that some guys are doing it and some guys are not, that may be the way that it runs, if the city goes through with this, but everything needs to be negotiated out," he said.
Heberer said there are enough trained firefighters to run a city ambulance service now, if the union allows it. He said he wants the city to make participation in the ambulance service mandatory for new Fire Department hires, but voluntary for current personnel.