Millville VFC proposes flat fees for ambulance ‘insurance’

As the name implies, the Millville Volunteer Fire Company serves the community primarily on a volunteer basis. However, 11 EMS staffers are paid to ensure local ambulance coverage. Now, to improve its 24-hour ambulance service, MVFC is proposing a flat ambulance fee for local towns.

“It’s an insurance policy … on the local level,” Fire Chief Doug Scott told the Millville Town Council on Dec. 22.

Millville Volunteer Fire Company is proposing that local towns charge $35 to every property. The mandatory ambulance subscription would buffer individual residents from pricey ambulance costs in the event of an emergency.

Currently, every household in the MFVC ambulance district can purchase an annual, optional $50 ambulance subscription. (The MVFC’s ambulance district covers the incorporated towns of Millville and Ocean View and unincorporated zones, such as Clarksville.)

Ambulance rides always cost money, averaging $800. Typically, in an emergency, when people are transported via ambulance, the MVFC charges the patient’s insurance first. Then the MVFC bills any outstanding charges to the patient.

But the $50 subscription covers any remaining ambulance charges for any members of the subscriber’s immediate household. The MVFC still charges the insurance to recoup some expenses, but the individuals do not pay for any calls all year.

Scott estimated that 40 percent of households in the fire district currently use the subscription.

But if the towns of Millville or Ocean View, or homeowner associations, joined the new ambulance subscription as a group, every household would pay $35. Plus, all household visitors and renters would also be covered for discounted ambulance service. For businesses, the employees would be covered, but not customers.

“If we could get 100 percent return … we would expand who was covered, and we would do it at a lower rate than what we normally charge,” Scott said.

The Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company already uses a similar system with the major four entities of the Towns of Bethany Beach, South Bethany and Fenwick Island and the Sea Colony development. The four entities assess property owners a flat rate of $53 for the regular BBVFC ambulance subscription, which they pass directly on to the ambulance service to cover its costs.

Not to shirk their duty

For the MVFC, that money saved would pay for a second nighttime EMS crew. Currently, four EMTs are split between two stations during the day. There is one nighttime crew of two EMTS, and sometimes they can’t cover all the calls of a growing population. That means the MVFC must sometimes ask neighboring fire companies to help.

“We do not like having anyone else answer our calls,” Scott said. “We try to maintain that responsibility as much as we can.”

Two round-the-clock crews could elevate Millville’s service significantly.

Last year, the MVFC received more than 1,800 EMS calls and more than 355 fire calls, Scott said.

Until 2009, the MVCF also provided ambulance service to the beach towns and their neighboring unincorporated areas, in addition to its own service area inland. But the high call volume caused the MVFC to give up beachfront EMS in order to focus on its own immediate area. That led to the creation of the BBVFC service and its fee structure.

But the population boom has spread inland, so Millville and Ocean View EMS numbers are approaching previous highs.

Meanwhile, “Volunteerism is down nationwide for the fire service, and we are impacted by that,” Scott said.

Paying for lifesavers

Some people misunderstand fire department funding, especially if they didn’t grow up in Delaware, Scott said.

“I think some people think we’re fully paid and we’re fully funded by another means,” but that’s not true, Scott said. Voluntary fundraising is a big part of their budget.

Payroll is the fire company’s biggest expense. While the Towns voluntarily contribute money to MVFC, there are some stipulations on how that money is used. The ambulance subscription fee would be used however MVFC wants, whether for staff or fuel.

The plan will be presented at an upcoming Ocean View Town Council meeting. Individual housing developments will also be invited to join the discounted service if they aren’t part of a participating municipality.

The Towns’ participation would make it a mandatory program for property owners.

Meanwhile, individual properties outside of town limits won’t get the discounted $35 rate, but also aren’t required to pay the annual fee.

Ultimately, the most effective method of funding would be for Sussex County to collect and distribute fire and ambulance fees countywide, similar to school taxes, Scott said. But that discussion is for another day.

In January, Scott will present more concrete numbers to the Millville Town Council.