Chief still chilly to in-house ALS

WOBURN - Despite some evidence that in-house advanced life-saving (ALS) ambulance services could generate some revenue for the city, Fire Chief Paul Tortolano this week told the City Council's Finance Committee he is still cool to the idea.

Ward 3 Alderman Scott Galvin raised the idea of bringing ALS services in-house as the FinCom reviewed the Fire Department's proposed budget for fiscal year 2008.

Galvin cited figures from John Danizio, the city's Deputy Auditor, claiming the city could bring in about $291,000 in additional money.

"It's something the city should be looking at," said Galvin.

Tortolano replied that there are start-up costs which may not have been considered in the model - like ALS training, and overtime costs for covering shifts for firefighters who are training to become medics.

"The turnover is huge. Getting someone through the academy is huge. There are a lot of things that come into play," said the chief. "I don't think your bottom line is going to be what you think it is."

The city currently provides basic life-saving (BLS) services, but contracts its ALS services to Action Ambulance, a private company.

In a memo written to Galvin in October, Danizio cited figures indicating the city would collect $535 per ALS run, with an average of 832 runs per year. The total revenue is $445,120, less the $153,920 the city already collects, which amounts to $291,200.

Galvin noted the Lexington Fire Department is moving toward providing in-house ALS services, and a memo from Lexington officials attached to Danizio's financial report stated the following:

"Fire-based ALS is a very cost-effective way of providing ALS to the community. It allows every patient contacted the benefit of the highest level of emergency care. A Fire-based system can be well-monitored for quality assurance and has the benefit of a career group of personnel that is committed to the community it serves."

As far as training is concerned, Galvin suggested any new firefighter would have to undergo ALS training and certification.

Fire budget

The Woburn Fire Department's proposed budget for FY'08 is $5,719,454, an increase of about $196,000 from this year.

"The mayor asked me to be conservative, yet realistic," said Tortolano.

Asked by Alderman at-large Joanna Gonsalves about a reduction by the mayor in the sick leave buy back line item from $340,000 to $235,000, Tortolano noted he originally compensated for the entire amount due to retiring firefighters, when some later opted for a 3-year payment plan.

The chief said he anticipates between 4 to 6 retirements.

City Council President Charles Doherty asked about a number of line items in the FY'07 budget that have balances or to which money has been transferred, with about six weeks left in the fiscal year.

Tortolano said he expects the accounts to be "pretty close" to accurate, though energy costs are always prone to fluctuation.

A building maintenance account with a high balance is being spent on a project that was started this week to improve the parking areas outside the city's various fire stations, which Tortolano noted have become worn over time.

Doherty asked if Tortolano planned to move forward a "building feasibility study" to determine which of Woburn's fire stations need work, the sooner the better.

"It seems inflation is driving construction costs up," said Doherty.

Tortolano replied he undertook a "7-year plan" for facilities, for which $73,300 was allotted this year and includes a mechanic truck with a plow ($40,000), phone systems for Station 1 ($3,300) and Station 3 ($5,000) and heating equipment for Station 3 ($25,000).

The new plow truck will replace one that was built in 1990, and is essential to keep the areas around the station clear, Tortolano said.

The chief attributed an increase in the clothing/hazardous clothing line item to increased costs and a "flurry of recruits" that need to be outfitted properly.

Doherty suggested clothing expenditures ought to be in the capital budget, since they are 1-time only items.

Galvin asked about the salaries that are paid to 10 members of the department who take on "special jobs," like payroll, arson investigation, oil burner inspection and mechanic.

Galvin noted the increases in the base pay bring the specialists up at least one rank in their rate, and three firefighters receive the same rate as captains.

Tortolano noted the pay rates were contractual, and the specialized work is done on top of their regular duties, albeit during an assigned shift.

"They should be getting the pay that's grade-appropriate," said Galvin. "I'm not sure it's additional work."

Galvin added the pay rates "would be something the mayor should be negotiating, in the contractual cycle."

© 2000 Woburn Daily Times Inc.