Web Exclusive: Study team sees EMS consolidation as likely

Washington Township Council to hear ad hoc committee’s report tonight. (Jan. 26)

By: Lauren Burgoon
   WASHINGTON — It looks more certain that the town will take over emergency medical services (EMS) from the fire department, resulting in an expected eight layoffs, according to a report from fire Chief Kevin Brink at last night’s fire commissioners meeting.
   The chief provided an update on an ad hoc committee’s examination of whether the town should assume EMS operations as a cost savings measure. Doing so would result in layoffs of full-time firefighters. Per diem employees would be used instead.
   Moving EMS under township purview is the most cost-effective option, Chief Brink said, as opposed to leaving operations as is or privatizing EMS. He cited a "substantial" cost savings, but declined to provide specifics.
   "We are starting to go into the planning phase of exactly how this is going to be done and exactly what’s going to be saved and how it’s going to be saved," Chief Brink said. "But it is more cost-effective than the way we’re doing it. It’s the same service as what we’re doing now."
   The fire department will help laid off employees find work in other towns’ departments, he added.
   Though Chief Brink repeatedly said the committee’s decision is not final, Fire Commissioner Mike McGowan, who also sits on the committee, was more pointed.
   "It’s going to happen… We’ve got a plan that’s underway, we just don’t want to release it right now," he said at Wednesday’s meeting.
   The Township Council still must approve a final plan before EMS is removed from the fire department’s supervision. The council will hear a similar update on the ad hoc committee’s work at its meeting tonight (Thursday.)
   The firefighters’ union greeted last night’s announcement with dismay and anger. Keith Kemery, First Vice President of the Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey, said the committee has not spent enough time studying the issue.
   The ad hoc committee, appointed by Mayor Dave Fried earlier this month, met twice so far and visited Monroe to study that town’s EMS operations. The committee includes Township Council members, two fire commissioners, the police chief, the fire department’s chief and deputy chief and several residents.
   "I’m so glad to see that a ‘thorough’ study means two meetings and one visit to another town," Mr. Kemery said sarcastically. "I think we can do better than that."
   Jason Palmer, president of Washington’s firefighters’ union, also opposes the plan.
   "It’s privatization with a different spin," he said. "You’re going to be using part-time employees who have no stake in this town."
   The firefighters and commissions would have little recourse to stop the town from taking over EMS operations. The town owns the ambulances and Mayor Fried can exercise his authority over public safety matters.
   The likelihood of the town taking over EMS puts the fire district’s own examination of the issue in question. The fire commissioners recently asked for proposals from consultants to study the matter, but the proposals are not due back until late next week.
   The fire district still would have to hire a consultant and give him or her time to complete a study. Fire Commissioner Rob Hutchinson said the district is unsure how long the entire process will take, though the ad hoc committee could be finished with its work by then and have final recommendations before the Township Council for a vote.