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October 17. 2012 12:41AM

Manchester fire chief says city should take control of ambulance service

MANCHESTER — The city’s fire department wants to take back responsibility for city ambulance services, swelling the city payroll by 32 workers drawing union pay, benefits and pension accrual.

Fire Chief James Burkush told a subcommittee of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen that he wants his department to take over from the current provider, American Medical Response (AMR).

“What we would be looking for would be a one-year extension of the current contract with the city,” Burkush said. “Right now we are not ready to bring forward a plan to the board in the short term.”

The aldermanic administration committee heard from Burkush in a discussion about the future of the ambulance service. No decision on a recommendation was made.

The fire chief said he was examining a variety of ways to operate the service, but estimated the 32 workers would be needed in addition to five new ambulances.

AMR has come under fire for issues with cost, billing and paperwork, including claims that the company is sending collection agents after people making a good-faith effort to straighten out their bills.

Burkush said he has very few complaints about AMR’s level of service, but noted that the fire department is providing emergency medical services on 75 percent of its calls as things stand now.

The fire chief said his deputies spend a considerable amount of time working with the private ambulance company, and he said residents are paying too much for the service they receive from AMR.

“Clinically the ambulance company has been absolutely phenomenal; that’s not the issue,” Burkush said, citing continuing complaints about the ambulance company’s business practices.

Alderman Daniel O’Neill said the city should be “moving forward” on the issue and warned that aldermen may not be interested in extending the AMR contract.

“They may be doing to a great job in the field, but it isn’t working and it needs to work,” O’Neill said.

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Bill Smith may be reached at wsmith@unionleader.com.


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