It’s a busy time of year. Schools are wrapping up, summer plans are ramping up. But Doug Scott would like everyone’s attention for just a few minutes. There might be something important coming to them in the mail this month, and he wants to make sure everyone understands what it’s all about.
Scott, co-chairman of the board of directors of the Millville Volunteer Fire Company, and MVFC President Gregory Hocker said last week that the fire company sends out mailings for its EMS subscription service each May. He emphasized the importance that the subscription drive plays in the operation of the fire company’s ambulance service.
The Millville fire company sends out three mailings a year, Scott explained: One for the fire fund drive, one for its capital campaign and one for its EMS subscription program. The May mailing is always for the ambulance service, he said.
“Every year, we’ve always done an ambulance fund drive. But this year, we felt the need to explain to the public the importance of this fund drive,” Hocker said last week. “Our fire department depends on this fund drive to be able to operate and move forward,” he said.
The tremendous growth in the town of Millville alone — which accounts for only part of the fire company’s response area — has meant that many new residents may not be familiar with how volunteer fire companies operate in Delaware, Scott said.
The Millville ambulance service operates four ambulances, two of which are staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. A third ambulance is staffed by part-time EMTs from May to September and a fourth is on standby, Scott said.
“We have to keep four ambulances to keep three of them running,” he said.
As of this year, the Millville EMS department is “almost fully” staffed by career EMTs, Scott said, who are led by a career lieutenant and an EMS chief. A pool of part-time EMTs fills in where needed, he said.
The fund drive helps pay the costs of ambulances themselves — which cost about $415,000 each — as well as staff salaries and department supplies, Scott said.
Averaging five transports a day, mostly to Beebe Healthcare’s South Coastal Emergency Department on Route 17 or Beebe’s Lewes Emergency Department, and sometimes to TidalHealth in Salisbury, Md., Scott said the service has seen “a huge transition” since its inception in 1962.
In 1962, Scott said, “We were all-volunteer. We had one ambulance, and … the guys came to the firehouse, got the ambulance and went to the call.”
Today, he said, “We are strictly a 911 emergency service,” having stopped doing interfacility transports about 20 years ago, he said.
“Our area — in particular on this southeast side of the county — is growing all the time. It doesn’t take a whole lot to ride through the area to figure out that they’re basically building home after home after home, which translates to more calls for service,” Scott said.
Last year, the fire company responded to more than 3,000 calls — about 84 percent of which were ambulance calls.
When the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company started their own ambulance service in 2009, it meant that Millville was no longer responsible for ambulance calls in and around Bethany Beach, South Bethany and Fenwick Island, Scott said. But even with those areas no longer in the MVFC service area, calls have increased steadily for the Millville fire company. About 65 percent of the calls, Scott said, are in unincorporated areas, while 16 percent are in the town limits of Ocean View and 11 percent are in the town limits of Millville. Another 8 percent are “mutual aid” calls, where Millville helps an adjacent fire company with a call.
The annual budget for Millville’s ambulance service is $1.8 million, Scott said. Funding breaks down as follows:
• 50 percent from ambulance service billing;
• 7 percent from Ocean View’s contractual agreement with the fire company;
• 6 percent from Millville’s contractual agreement with the fire company;
• 14 percent from the State of Delaware;
• 2 percent from agreements with homeowners’ associations; and
• 11 percent from ambulance subscriptions.
Last year, Scott said, the company ran $294,000 “in the red,” with its expenses exceeding its revenues. Money from the fire fund was transferred to make up the difference, he said. That year, the fire company sent out 10,000 requests for subscriptions. Only 21 percent of those requests were answered with subscriptions.
“We would like to increase that,” he said. “There is an effect for only 2 out of 10 returning that request,” he said.
The $75-per-household annual subscription covers “anyone from your residence” Scott said, and subscribers have any amounts left over after their insurance is billed forgiven by the fire company, meaning their portion of the ambulance bill is zero. There is no limit on the number of calls covered by the subscription, he said. Potential subscribers can compare that annual subscription cost to the actual cost of each and every call, which Scott said currently averages $1,350.
“Your donation to this ambulance subscription service could affect our ability to staff the ambulances and come to you when you need us,” Scott said. “So it’s not just ‘Is it a good deal for me?’ It’s a service that we feel needs to be supported,” he said, “because it’s a valuable service, and when you need it, you need it.”
“The question you need to ask yourself is do you have time to wait,” he said, in the event a Millville ambulance is not available and one needs to come from farther away.
“It affects everybody if we don’t have enough to operate,” Scott said. “We’re hoping that more than 2 out of 10 people will see this as a valuable service and support it,” he said.
Subscriptions can be paid by mail when the request is received by the homeowner, he said, but a new online subscription option makes the payment even easier. To subscribe online, go to www.millville84.com and look for the “Blue Star of Life” EMS symbol on the lower right side of the home page.