WELLSBORO - To combat a shortage of available volunteers, the Wellsboro Firemen's Ambulance Association has contracted with Laurel Health System for $88,000 for four emergency medical technicians, two full-time and two part-time, to staff a Basic Life Support ambulance 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday except holidays.
The contract went into effect the Monday after Thanksgiving, Nov. 29, according to Pete Lupkowski, outgoing president of the ambulance association. The association, which started in 1942 and has about 42 active members, approved the contract in August, he said.
While not the first paid ambulance service in Tioga County, because Soldiers and Sailor's Memorial Hospital pays its paramedics, Lupkowski said the association is the first of the volunteer associations in the county that have paid staff.
BRYAN G. ROBINSON/Sun-Gazette Correspondent
The four paid EMTs with the Wellsboro Firemen’s Ambulance Association are, from left, in back, full-time employees Tim Mays and Doug Champaign, and in front, part-time employees Pam Warriner and Ann Pylinski.
The Wellsboro association covers the borough, Charleston, Delmar and Shippen townships and has mutual aid agreements throughout the county. It had more than 1,400 calls last year and averages three to four calls in any 24-hour period, but that number is increasing, Lupkowski said.
The initial discussions between the association and Laurel Health began more than five years ago. "We had problems covering calls during the days," he said. The association had arranged for incentives to encourage people to come out during the day, but even after using those incentives, he said, more help was needed during weekdays and the association approached Laurel Health.
Among people involved with the discussions on the contract, in addition to Lupkowski, were Kelly Johnson, paramedic coordinator at Soldiers and Sailor's Memorial Hospital, and Janie Hilfiger, director of nursing at the hospital, and Joe Hastings, chief of the ambulance association.
Lupkowski said Laurel Health technically will employ the four staff, but exclusively for the use of the ambulance association. Laurel Health, he said, handles the human resources side of the equation, including pay rates and any disciplinary action that might be needed. Laurel Health also handled the interview process with both sides then agreeing on the final employees who were chosen.
In addition to staffing the ambulance, the paid staff will be responsible for general cleanup at the station, stocking the ambulance, paperwork and have other duties, he said.
Lupkowski said the association looked at how volunteer associations in other parts of the state had contracted for paid staff, including in Lycoming County, where some associations have paid staff through Susquehanna Health. "Without paid staff, we couldn't guarantee that we'd respond," he said. "Even now, we can't guarantee, but at least we're making a real effort."
Initially, he said volunteers were worried that the association was looking to replace them with the paid staff. However, after discussions between the officers and the volunteers, they began to understand that the paid staff are an addition to the volunteers. At any time, volunteers still can assist during the day.
The volunteers staff "duty sections" seven nights a week from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. with three to five people each night.
Something that people might not realize about volunteer associations such as the Wellsboro one is that they aren't run primarily with money from taxes. "We're not-for-profit," said Lupkowski. "Our principal income comes from billing for calls and memberships each year." A small amount of funding does come from the local emergency services tax, which is split annually between fire, ambulance and police.
As for how the paid service is doing so far, Lupkowski said he had touched base with Laurel Health and that all things seem to be going very well. For his own part, he is happy. "There's no more panic when you hear a tone go out," he said. "You know that there are people there."