By VERNON ROBISON
Moapa Valley Progress
The Moapa Valley Fire District (MVFD) is finalizing a proposal which aims to ensure round-the-clock emergency medical coverage to local communities.
At a meeting held on Thursday, Mar. 15, fire chiefs from the three local stations presented a proposal to fund a full-service medical crew to be on call during weekdays when volunteer coverage in the community has traditionally been sparse.
In addition, the proposal would initiate a pay-per-call program among the stations’ volunteer rank and file in order to encourage recruitment of new personnel.
The total cost of the proposal is estimated at about $305,000 per year.
The proposal had its origins in a meeting held last November. At that time, MVFD board members met with Clark County Fire Department (CCFD) officials to discuss the possibility of a complete separation of the district from CCFD operations. Those discussions are still ongoing with a full feasibility study in process.
But in the course of the November meeting, the point was also made that the three local stations are currently having difficulty recruiting enough volunteers to provide full emergency medical coverage to the communities.
Clark County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick, who was in attendance at the November meeting, had exclaimed that this was unacceptable. She immediately tasked CCFD staff to draft a Request for Proposal for emergency medical services to fill that gap in services.
The result of that plan came back with a rough estimated cost of about $400,000 per year for the contracted services to the district. This would include an agreement with a Las Vegas ambulance company to send a crew to Moapa Valley and provide emergency medical services on Monday to Friday, 8 am to 5 pm. The next step would have been to go out to bid on the proposal.
But the chiefs of the local stations felt that the same services could better be done in-house through the district. They cited advantages to having local people, who are familiar with the community, provide the services. Furthermore, they believed that it could be done at a lower cost.
“They would be our own people who know the community,” said Overton Station 74 chief Steve Neel. “Plus they wouldn’t just be sitting around on a street corner waiting for a call to come in. They would be kept busy in the stations keeping equipment in order, checking expiration dates, cleaning things up and making the apparatus ready to go. That is all stuff that needs to be done anyway. So it would also take some of the burden off of our volunteer staff.”
In addition, the proposal could be implemented at a significant saving, well below the $400,000 contracted alternative, Neel said.
The MVFD proposal starts with part-time staffing that would collectively cover the weekday schedule from 7 am to 5 pm.
A paid paramedic would be available to run during those hours. The paramedic position would be staffed at $25 per hour at a cost of approximately $65,000 per year.
In addition, an Advanced EMT would round out the two-man crew. This position would be staffed at $15 per hour with an annual cost of about $39,000 per year.
Neel felt confident that by July 1, the beginning of the 2018-19 fiscal year, staffing could be in place to run the two-man arrangement for the five days per week.
“I have already talked to about 10 paramedics here in the community,” Neel said. “None of them work for the county so they don’t have any conflicts with labor laws. And they were all willing to step in and take a part of that schedule.”
The question arose on what would happen if the two-man crew was called out and then a second call came in for service. How would the district service that second call?
Neel responded that, in reviewing the district’s call statistics, he had found that such an instance is very rare during those weekday hours. However, should it take place, the volunteer force, which would presumably become more robust through the proposed pay per call program, would be called upon to respond.
“Technically it wouldn’t be any different if we contracted with an ambulance service,” Neel said. “If a second call came in, we would have to tone out the volunteer stations for a response. In any case it is still an improvement to what we have now.”
To address the problem of low volunteer availability, the plan proposes the incentive of a pay-per-call system. Neel said that he had made some cost projections based on conservative estimates drawn from the number of calls serviced by the three local stations in the past few years.
This system would pay paramedic volunteers at the rate of $45 per call. Advanced EMTs would receive $30 per call while basic EMTs would be paid $15. Firefighters would receive $10 per call. Given a conservative estimate drawn from recent call data, Neel projected the annual cost of the pay-per-call program would be around $110,000 per month.
In addition, volunteers would be paid $20 per training session. Those training sessions would take place twice each month.
All of that; along with taxes, payroll administration fees, medicare, social security withholding and unemployment tax; would add up to the $305,000 per year number being projected for the program, Neel said.
“This is in our budget to be able to do this,” Neel said. “If we don’t do it, then we will be paying $400,000 per year in contracting the services to an outside company. This solves the problem with emergency medical coverage and it also provides incentive to build up our staffing.”
The MVFD current revenue from its allocation of State Consolidated Sales Tax comes in at around $850,000 per year. The district’s annual operating budget has usually been at about $350,000 per year.
The district is currently sitting on about $5 million in unspent cash reserves from past year’s revenues.
With the added full-time emergency medical services program, along with the proposed pay per call incentive, the chiefs project that the district would still operate within its revenue stream.
District officials are currently finalizing a capital improvement budget projection for the next five years. In the intial proposal, presented in the March 15 meeting, this portion of the budget would have overrun the district’s revenue stream and begun dipping into reserves.
With that in mind, the chiefs have gone back to the drawing board and begun drafting more modest plans for capital improvements. Those plans, along with the staffing proposal, will be brought before the MVFD board at its next meeting on Monday, April 9, to be held at the Overton Fire Station #74 at 7 pm.