Pa. FD to end EMS service due to mounting costs

Officials said ambulance costs ran up a $150,000 budget deficit over the past two years, jeopardizing the Boswell Fire Department


David Hurst
The Tribune-Democrat

BOSWELL, Pa. — Saddled by escalating costs, Boswell Fire Department is cutting its emergency ambulance service on Sept. 30.

Fire department officials announced the move with a "heavy heart" Thursday, saying ambulance costs racked up a $150,000 budget deficit over the past two years alone.

Boswell Fire Department officials said they hope the timing of the announcement provides nearby agencies enough time to research the idea of adding the Boswell area to their coverage zones by Oct. 1.
Boswell Fire Department officials said they hope the timing of the announcement provides nearby agencies enough time to research the idea of adding the Boswell area to their coverage zones by Oct. 1. (Photo/Boswell Fire Department)

That's a massive sum for a department that operated on a $321,000 budget last year, including equipment, payroll, fuel and other costs, board member and financial secretary Jonathan Adams said.

"This isn't something anyone wanted to do. But It was getting to a point our entire fire department's reserves were down to months and weeks (of funds remaining)," Adams told The Tribune-Democrat in a telephone interview Thursday.

He said the division operated on a $121,000 deficit in 2021.

The fear is that if the department didn't do something, the volunteer fire service itself would be threatened, he said.

"Make no mistake, while the thought of not having a professionally staffed ambulance in our community full-time concerns us, the fear of not having a fire department in our community concerns us far greater. Without a "course correction" from our current financial state and trajectory, the possibility of completely shutting down both ambulance AND fire-rescue operations could be a very real scenario," the department wrote on Facebook in a post to the community.

By announcing the move early, department officials are hoping to give nearby agencies time to research the idea of adding the Boswell area to their coverage zones.

The department's ambulance division has a roster of 25 employees, including paramedics and EMTs who mostly cover shifts on a part-time basis in addition to handling calls for other departments, Adams said.

Boswell also serves parts of Jenner and Quemahoning townships.

Regardless of what happens, rest assured that an ambulance will be dispatched Oct. 1 — and beyond — through Somerset County 911 even after Boswell's lights go dark, Somerset County Emergency Management Agency Director Joel Landis said.

It may mean an ambulance is traveling farther to serve the Boswell area.

"But we have a system in place to send out ambulances when a call comes in from Boswell. It already works that way now when Boswell's department is already out on another call," Landis said, noting the next closest available would step in for that particular call.

"We're saddened to see us lose another emergency medical service in the county," he said, "but I can completely understand with the state of things the way they are. In today's economy, it must be a challenge for every service to continue operating."

Landis said the decision should serve as a reminder across the region that communities need to "gather around" the emergency medical service providers that serve the area and support them in any way they can.

"We've got to support them to keep them running," he said, "so that we don't lose any more."

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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