JOHNSTOWN -- After a fast start, the city of Johnstown's new Fire Department ambulance service has been temporarily shut down pending the city's acquisition of liability insurance.
Johnstown started its ambulance service early this year, but Mayor Vern Jackson said he wasn't made aware of the activation until he heard about it on WENT radio. He said after the city's organizational meeting on Jan. 8 he asked City Treasurer Mike Gifford to determine whether the city had enough liability insurance coverage to operate the ambulance service.
"It came back that we did not, so we had to shut it down," Jackson said.
Last year Johnstown obtained its Certificate of Need to operate an ambulance service, making it the first-priority responder to calls within the city limits. The city in September purchased a 2009 Ford TL Custom ambulance for $35,000 from a dealer in Suffolk County.
Jackson said the city has basic insurance on the ambulance, but not the needed insurance to carry ambulance patients.
Fire Chief Bruce Heberer said the needed "insurance rider" will cost about $500 and he's hopeful the city will get it and restore the service as soon as possible.
"We wanted to get going, that's all. The guys wanted to get the service up and running. That Tuesday the eighth [Jan. 8] we started taking calls," Heberer said.
Heberer said he didn't have an exact count on the number of ambulance calls Johnstown responded to, but said the service was shut down after Tuesday Jan. 15. He said the highest volume call day was probably Jan. 9 with five calls. He said he shut the service down as soon as the mayor instructed him to do so. The Fulton County Sheriff's Department Dispatch Center was called three times, to accommodate shift changes, to tell them the ambulance service was shut down and to restore the Johnstown Area Volunteer Ambulance Corps, which operates across the street from the Fire Department, as the primary ambulance service.
He said there was at least one attempt to dispatch the city of Johnstown as the primary ambulance service on Wednesday, but his shift commander informed the dispatch center the ambulance service was shut down. He said discrepancies in understanding when the service stopped operation are likely due to changing shifts at the dispatch center.
"This is a minor glitch, and we're hoping to get back to operating soon," Heberer said.
Jackson said the city has budgeted zero revenue from the ambulance in the 2019 budget, but has been pleased to see that neighboring city of Amsterdam has brought in higher than expected revenues in each of the two years it has operated an ambulance service.
The city ambulance service will charge medical insurance for picking up patients in the same manner as other ambulance services, but hopes to make a "profit" for the city because the ambulance calls will be staffed by on-duty firefighters with paramedic and EMS training who are already being paid to be firefighters.
Heberer said the city's ambulance service will be operating using the city's Fire Department radio frequency. He said he has had some concerns from other ambulance services in the county that would prefer that Johnstown's ambulance use the same frequency as the other ambulance services.
"It gets so busy, the other frequency is used by the whole county, so I just want to keep command and control of my Fire Department on my frequency, and if we need anybody else we have the capability of talking to anybody or listening to anybody anytime we want," Heberer said.
Heberer said the Fulton County Sheriff's Department Dispatch Center handles all EMS calls, so there should never be any confusion as to which agency is needed for a call.
Heberer said it's hard to estimate how much revenue the ambulance service could bring into the city. He said the estimated number of annual ambulance calls in the city of Johnstown have fluctuated between 800 and 1,500.