After months of bitter wrangling over the separation of the Chalfont Fire Co. and its ambulance service, an independent emergency medical service began operation this week.

Born from a court decision last fall, Chalfont Emergency Medical Services took over the reins of the ambulance squad that serves both Chalfont and New Britain Township and borough.

For more than a year, the fire company battled with the ambulance squad over finances and control of the service, of which the fire company wanted to divest itself.

Although it wanted the ambulance service to be independent, fire company officials insisted the management of the ambulance squad was not qualified to run the operation. At one point, an outside ambulance service was contracted to take over but that deal fell apart.

The polarizing argument eventually wound up in court, where terms of the separation were settled.

Run by the fire company for more than 50 years, the service is now operated by a board of directors, which includes a representative from each municipality, two members with EMS training and two at-large community members.
“We’re bent on seeing the ambulance squad succeed,” said board chairman Bob Bair of New Britain. “We want to instill confidence in the service … we want it to be an excellent service.”

Other than the leadership of the organization, the service will remain largely unchanged. Residents will still be served by two ambulances, one of which is new, and fees are not expected to change. Taxpayers in all three municipalities pay an ambulance tax of one-half mill — or 50 cents on every $1,000 of a property’s assessed value. A property assessed at the county’s average pays $178 annually to support the ambulance tax.

Bair and Engle said the organization is moving forward as determined by the plan of division mapped out in Bucks County Court.

Under that separation plan, devised by the fire company, the ambulance service was spun off as a new corporation, although it still remains involved with the fire company. The fire company is required to give the business $35,000 each year for three years as it begins its new life.

The fire company also spent some $120,000 recently from its capital account to buy the organization a new ambulance, a purchase that was planned before the split, Clements said.

And, for the foreseeable future, the ambulance service will share space with the fire company, paying $2,000 per month rent.

As the now-independent group gets under way, Bair said the board hopes to increase membership and make the squad a “more attractive” place to work.

While most of the volunteers and paid staff are the same as those who worked with the old organization, Bair said the division plan called for everyone to reapply for their jobs. About three or four did not. The staff now stands at close to 20, said Bair, with four or five of those paid positions.

During the transition, there’s been no change in pay or benefits for the staff. That will be re-evaluated, Bair said, to stay competitive.

In accordance with the court-ordered split, the fire company has to transfer a portion of its assets to the newly run emergency services group. While it’s unclear exactly how much that will be, court records indicate it could be some $300,000.
Bair said the board is waiting for the fire company to close out its books before passing money to the EMS. And, he added, “the sooner the better” would be helpful to the financially fledging group.

The chairman said he did not want to discuss the service’s 2007 budget until it had been agreed upon by the board.

“As far as the fire company’s concerned,” said Jim Clements, president of the fire company, “everything is going smoothly.”

Bair said the board is striving to “put the past behind and move forward.”
In addition to Bair, municipal representatives are John Engle of Chalfont and Bob Bender of New Britain Township. Other board members include EMS-trained William Donahoe, a Warrington resident who is also a Chalfont Fire Co. member and a member of the ambulance team, and Jeffery Stern, of New Britain Township, who is also a fire company member.

The two at-large members are Michael Moody, an attorney who lives in Chalfont, and Susan Jones, a banker who lives in the community.

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