EMS official: We’re the victim of a bad deal

Staff Writer

A new contract that has JFK Medical Center providing 24-hour, sevenday a-week ambulance service in Edison may bring an end to the township’s volunteer first aid model.

“It basically disbands the volunteer EMS [Emergency Medical Services] in the township,” said Vamsi Revuru, head trustee of Edison First Aid Squad No. 2.

As of Aug. 1, the Raritan Valley Regional EMS (RVREMS), which encompasses Edison First Aid Squad No. 2, New Dover Road; Edison First Aid Squad No. 1, Lakeview Boulevard; and the Clara Barton First Aid Squad, Amboy Avenue, will no longer answer 911 calls.

The calls will be rerouted to the dispatch center at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick on behalf of JFK Medical Center. The contract has JFK Medical Center also renting space for ambulances at a public safety facility in Raritan Center for $64,000, according to Revuru.

The nonprofit RVREMS is an organization of about 174 active members, including 110 certified emergency medical technicians. Two members are paid; the rest are volunteers. Each squad handles 1,400 calls per year and backs up the others when needed.

Many members have served with the squads for decades. Bob Janeski, vice president of the Clara Barton First Aid Squad, has volunteered for 22 years, including 17 with Clara Barton. The squads themselves have long histories of township service — the Edison First Aid Squad No. 2 celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2011.

“Combined, we all have been serving the township for 200-plus years,” Janeski said.

Edison Township began advertising for proposals last November for a 24-hour ambulance service. After seeing the request for proposals (RFP), RVREMS — which has been operating from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. and on weekends — threw its name in the ring.

“It wasn’t necessarily a want — it was more for survival,” Revuru said. “We wanted to remain as is.”

Its most recent proposal had to be rescinded due to the lack of a required bond, he said.

“Up until two weeks ago, we didn’t know where we stood,” he said, adding that the organization was given two options.

One option was to disband and have its volunteers join JFK as its first volunteer squad. The second option, presented during negotiations on July 23, was to keep RVREMS going with one ambulance. This was discussed after members came to a consensus that they did not want to disband.

“We were told the billing that was started last year will no longer be allowed,” Revuru said, adding that the organization launched a billing model last year due to financial constraints.

Formed in January 2012, RVREMS came about after the trustees of Edison’s three volunteer squads sought to address volunteer shortages and financial issues. The billing model included two part-time, paid members — Steve Pawlak as chief and Alvin Ng as deputy chief.

In addition to revenue from billing, RVREMS received a voluntary contribution of $110,000 from the township, according to township Business Administrator Maureen Ruane. The township had also subsidized fuel for the ambulances.

However, officials did not allocate funds for the volunteer squads in this year’s municipal budget.

William Stephens, management specialist for the township, said the $232,000 contract with JFK Medical Center is for a paid emergency service.

“The township has not asked anyone to disband,” he said. “The problem we have had is the billing element. We want the squads to stay viable. We continue to pay workers’ compensation, because we believe in the volunteer squads. If it was at the point we wanted to disband the squads, we would have did away with that.”

Stephens said that officials appreciate the volunteer squads’ services, which in addition to responding to emergencies include standing by at high school football games, providing assistance during mock vehicle crashes at prom season and more.

Mayor Antonia Ricigliano informed residents of the changes via an emergency notification message on July 21. She also disspelled rumors that RVREMS would be disbanding. Many residents then attended the Township Council meetings on July 22 and 24 to express concerns.

While township officials state that RVREMS is not disbanding, Revuru said that with only one ambulance in operation at night and no funds coming from the township, it is being forced to disband.

“We have become the victim of a bad deal,” he said. “Eventually, people will leave.”

Revuru said another negotiation session was set for July 30. He said the volunteer service would likely regroup in about a month in response to the changes.