HAPPIER DAYS — At the conclusion of the Thurman Town Board meeting in November, Thurman EMS squad President Jean Coulard (center) and squad captain John O'Neill (right) exchange friendly compliments with Warrensburg EMS Squad Captain Steve Emerson (left). Since then, the Thurman Town Board withdrew its financial support of the Thurman squad, an action which threatened its survival and prompted the agency's decision this week to dissolve. Warrensburg EMS Board of Directors President Robert Farrell said Jan. 29 that his agency's personnel, if available, would now be responding to calls in Thurman, but would need financial support from the town to continue to respond long-term.
The Thurman ambulance squad, struggling for survival since recently losing its annual subsidy from the town board, is now on the verge of dissolving, the agency’s top officer said Tuesday Jan. 29.
Thurman Emergency Medical Services President Jean Coulard said the squad’s board of directors had been polled Monday night and five of the seven had agreed to liquidate assets to pay remaining bills, quit operating, and shut down their agency. A formal meeting was scheduled to take place Tuesday night to formalize the decision, she said.
“I’m getting the paperwork together now to dissolve the corporation,” Coulard said mid-Tuesday, noting that the financial support from the town had been vital to the agency’s ability to operate.
“For all intents and purposes, we’re closed — There’s no money left,” she said. “It’s very sad that the squad is falling by the wayside,” she said. “We’ve done what we can — and the town board’s been so unresponsive — but you can’t fight city hall.”
Coulard said that Thurman EMS would likely stop operating entirely in a matter of days. She said that in the meantime, ambulance calls would be answered only if a qualified volunteer staff member was in the station or nearby. For much of Tuesday, the station was unmanned.
“If a driver and an EMT is there we’ll respond — it will be hit-and-miss — but 70 to 80 percent of the time, we’re not now staffed to respond,” she said. “Warrensburg EMS will have to pick up our calls — it’s a sad situation, considering the extra time it takes them to get up here.”
Robert Farrell, the Board of Directors Chairman of Warrensburg Emergency Medical Services, said officials of his agency have been talking with Thurman squad officers recently about the possibility of acquiring the assets of the Thurman squad — their relatively new ambulance, EMS equipment and their squad building on High St.
Theoretically, the Warrensburg squad could set up a satellite station in Thurman and keep it manned around the clock, he said. But such a scenario would most likely require a financial stipend from the town, considering the low number of calls in Thurman and the expenses involved in staffing the station and paying for the required extensive training. Also, he noted that the townspeople were used to a free service.
“If the town board didn’t want to give us anything, it would crimp our ability to answer calls up there,” Farrell said. “We’re short of money as it is.”
Tuesday afternoon, Warren County Director of Emergency Services Brian LaFlure said he knew of Thurman EMS’ financial troubles, but he hadn’t heard they were shutting down.
“I wish they could have made a go of it, but they don’t have enough runs to break even,” he said. “It’s too bad.”
Farrell and LaFlure said that with the equipment, training and staffing necessary for a modern ambulance squad to provide the advanced life support services people expect, agencies that have few calls are bound to have financial troubles.
Thurman EMS responds to about 100 calls per year, and Warrensburg EMS responds to approximately 1,100.
Farrell noted that in Thurman, the service has been traditionally provided at no cost to the residents, which crimps finances. Farrell said that without subsidy, the amount received from billing patients would hardly pay for the gasoline to send ambulances out — let alone paid qualified staffing.
Thurman Supervisor Evelyn Wood said Tuesday afternoon that she hadn’t heard that Thurman EMS was pursuing plans to dissolve.
“It’s admirable that the Thurman squad has done as well as they have for years,” she said. “But with all the state requirements, it’s difficult for a squad to get by anymore.”
She said the board’s decision to withdraw support had been a difficult one.
“We wholeheartedly support having EMS services in town — Public safety is of paramount importance, and we have nothing but respect for the squad members — but the financial times are tight. We couldn’t afford what they were asking.”
Thurman EMS officers had recently requested operating subsidy from the town, at various times, representing sums ranging from $30,000 to $115,000 annually.
Wood said the town taxpayers were already burdened with hefty employee retirement increases which pushed the town budget to the maximum under the tax cap — without any subsidy to the squad.
In mid-November, the squad asked for $75,000 from the town, banking on raising $40,000 to $50,00 in donations from the town’s 350 or so households. Wood had said the $75,000 sum would represent a 20 percent tax increase, which taxpayers couldn’t afford.
In 2012, the town allocated $27,315 towards the EMS agency’s operations, and the prior year, the sum was $33,468.
In various town board meetings over the past several years, quite a few citizens have requested passionately for public support for Thurman EMS, citing how its quick response times were vital to public safety. Ambulances from Warrensburg can take 10 to 20 minutes longer to arrive than the local squad. Others, however, have expressed their concern to board members about rising taxes.
Coulard estimated that Thurman EMS’ squad building — appraised several years ago at $300,000, might be worth about $200,000 now. The agency’s ambulance, she added, was just recently paid off. She said it was worth $78,000.
“Our building was built by squad members’ labor about 12 years ago for about $57,000,” she said. Coulard continued that in the squad’s dissolution, its assets would be substantially greater than its liabilities.
Farrell said that the Warrensburg squad has interest in acquiring the building, because it would be key to providing an efficient satellite location for their operations. Warrensburg EMS also could use Thurman’s ambulance, he added, because Warrensburg EMS has an urgent need for another — they now have one ambulance in top shape, one in marginal condition and one unusable.
“If we take on the building, we’d have to have support from the town — but less than would be necessary for a full independent service,” Farrell said. “At the moment, we’re ready to do what we can to protect public safety in Thurman. But we can’t keep doing this for an extended time without financial support.”