Bristol, Va. fire department plans to take over medical calls; generate money for city


As the cash-strapped city of Bristol, Virginia looks for ways to cut costs, the city's fire department has a plan to make money.

The fire department wants to take over emergency calls in the city. Bristol, Virginia's fire chief said this plan could bring in half a million dollars, each year for the city.

But not everyone is on board. Right now, the Bristol Life Saving Crew handles those EMS calls. And they said if the fire department takes over, the non-profit will be forced to shut down.

A brand new ambulance is the newest addition to the Bristol Life Saving Crew. But now the crew is wondering how much longer they'll need it.

"Why does the city want to purchase ambulances?" BLSC volunteer Bob Douglas asked. "Why does the city want to get into EMS, when they've had a system that's been in place for 70 years?"

The fire department wants to take over emergency medical calls and transport patients to generate money for the city.

"You're looking at easily over half a million dollars a year that could be retained really for just a very little expense at all," chief Mike Armstrong said.

And the fire chief added they can handle the extra work.

"Firefighters are already trained as EMTs," Armstrong said. "This just adds one more step. Instead of us just assisting somebody else, now we can do the whole thing from start to finish."

But volunteers at the Life Saving Crew said that will force them out of business.

"When they say they're going to take over, it hurts your feelings - like they're kicking you plum out of the city," BLSC volunteer Mark Blankenship said.

"We would be nonexistent to the community after this would happen," Douglas said.

Right now, the Life Saving Crew is made up of 32 part-time paid employees and 18 volunteers. Blankenship said in the last year, they transported nearly 4,000 people to the hospital.

And they rely on those payments from insurance billings just to break even.

"If we just sit back and didn't do anything, then we're not sticking up for our people and our business to keep it afloat," Blankenship said.

Douglas said they work closely with the fire department. There are six firefighters who also work at the Life Saving Crew. So ultimately, they just want what's best for the city and the community.

"There's no animosity," Douglas said. "We just don't understand why you want to fix something that's not broken."

This idea is not a new one. Around a decade ago, Bristol Tennessee did the same thing, leaving the Life Saving Crew out of the mix.

Now Bristol, Virginia's fire chief said if approved, he plans to buy two used ambulances, apply for the necessary certifications, and be running medical calls by July 1st.

He will present his plan to the City Council at their budget workshop, Thursday morning.