By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
MARGATE – Fire Chief Dan Adams asked the governing body Thursday, Feb. 18 for support in dealing with mainland communities, which he said are not providing adequate emergency services coverage to their residents.
Adams said the state of EMS services in Atlantic County in general is in crisis mode.
Adams said Margate, which has a fully staffed, paid fire department, provided ambulance services to Somers Point three times on Monday, Feb. 14, which left Margate with just one first responder unit to cover emergencies in Margate.
“At no point will I go to the point that we don’t have the protection needed for our residents,” Adams said at the Board of Commissioners meeting.
The Margate City Fire Department is staffed on all shifts with six firefighters who are all EMT certified. The department has two EMS units available 24 hours a day year-round. The city has two ambulances – one at each of the city’s firehouses. If both ambulances are on call, it leaves just two firefighters to cover other emergencies, including working fires, he said.
If both ambulances are out on calls, off-duty personnel are called in to ensure adequate coverage, he said.
“At one point, we had to change our policy to ensure residents in Margate were being served,” he said. “There may be a time when we will be unable to provide mutual aid” to Mainland communities.
Somers Point has a volunteer fire department. Northfield and Linwood each have one paid driver, Adams said.
Somers Point Mayor Jack Glasser and Administrator Jason Frost were not available for comments.
“Needless to say, our counterparts in other communities are not providing the same type of service. It’s been taxing on us, been taxing on Ventnor and taxing on Brigantine going to these other municipalities when we all provide the services we need to,” Adams said.
According to Adams, Somers Point has an agreement with Egg Harbor Township to provide ambulance services, but that community may not be as well staffed as the Downbeach towns, he said. The Somers Point website said Shore Medical Center provides ambulance services in the community, but Adams said the hospital stopped providing services several years ago.
Inspira is making inroads to provide EMS services in the eastern portion of the state and is providing its services to Northfield and Linwood. Pleasantville uses Tri-Care.
The only time Margate will be able to respond to calls for mutual aid is when there is a primary ambulance unit available to cover Margate, he said.
“It could be how EMTs are paid, but they can’t find people to do the job,” he said.
EMTs earn just a little more than minimum wage, while firefighters such as those in Margate and Ventnor, are paid more.
“We need other communities to step up and provide coverage in their own communities,” he said.
Margate bills for ambulance services through a third party company, but local residents are not charged for services if they don’t have insurance, he said. Margate has a population of about 6,000 year-round residents that swells to about 30,000 in the summer.
The city generates about $225,000 in revenue from EMS services reimbursed by insurance companies, but it is only a fraction of the cost of covering the salaries for 37 firefighters and ongoing training, including 24 core credits and 24 elective credits for EMTs every three years.
Some may think Margate is overstaffed, but it is not, he said.
Response times in Margate are 2-4 minutes anywhere in the city, while off-shore communities may have to wait up to 25 minutes to have an ambulance respond.
“The calls for EMS services have increased, but the revenue has not,” he said. “We are here to provides services, not to make money. Our staff is highly qualified and care about the services they provide.”
In the last three years, calls for EMS mutual aid services have increased tenfold, Adams said.
“Some days, we get multiple calls,” he said.
In Longport, where Adams is a volunteer firefighter, they responded to more EMS calls to Somers Point in January 2021 than they actually responded to in Longport, he said.
Adams said he has contacted the Somers Point administrator, Atlantic County Board of County Commissioners Chairwoman Maureen Kern, who lives in Somers Point, and Councilman Sean McGuigan.
Margate Mayor Michael Becker said a commissioner would be available to attend a future meeting.
Adams said Margate would continue to provide mutual aid whenever possible, but Mainland communities should be aware that there will be no mutual aid “if our first unit is not available.”
“It shouldn’t be up to the City of Margate to solve their problems,” Adams said.
Inability to fill EMS positions due to a lack of funding is a nationwide problem, as well as in certain Atlantic County communities that have volunteer fire departments, he said.
“We are in crisis mode in Atlantic County. We need to get the politicians involved.”
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