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COUNCIL QUESTIONS PANEL'S OK OF TWIN CITY AMBULANCE

Before Twin City Ambulance takes over emergency calls in the northern third of Buffalo on Friday, city lawmakers want the six-member panel that approved the designation to explain their action to the Common Council at a meeting set for Thursday.

Council President James W. Pitts called for the meeting with the Emergency Medical Services Board during a public hearing Tuesday.

The Council at its regular meeting Tuesday approved a resolution calling for the board to issue a report to the Council and to postpone the date of its decision to give a preferred status zone assignment to Twin City Ambulance.

The Council cannot unilaterally rescind a decision by the board, whose members are appointed by the mayor and do not need confirmation by the Council. However, Pitts said the Council does have subpoena power to compel all the board members to attend Thursday's meeting.

After a lengthy hearing Tuesday, lawmakers still are seeking to determine why the board made its decision to give Twin City Ambulance, a City of Tonawanda-based company, the go-ahead to operate in Buffalo. That action effectively ends a five-year span of dominance by Rural/Metro Ambulance, a company with an unblemished record in Buffalo. Council members want to know what research the board has to show that their decision will result in improved ambulance service in Buffalo if competition is opened up to Twin City Ambulance, and whether it will result in a reduction in ambulance service rates.

Lawmakers also want a fuller picture of what transpired during a closed-door meeting Oct. 3, after which the board made its decision.

"I think this Council deserves an explanation as to what was discussed in that executive session," Pitts said Tuesday.

At Tuesday's hearing, only three of the six board members were present, including the panel's chairman, who took issue with his colleagues' decision to give Twin City Ambulance "preferred status" in answering emergency calls in two of six city zones.

The Rev. John R. Gaglione called the decision to split zones a backward move, adding that it will do nothing to stimulate competition because the board sets ambulance service rates in the city. Father Gaglione also charged that the board's decision was made far in advance of the Oct. 3 meeting. And further, he called the board outmoded and recommended it be dissolved.

"I think the whole thing needs to be scrapped. The system was created at a time when hospitals ran ambulance services," Father Gaglione said.

Board members Michael Walters and the Rev. Jerome Ferrell denied Father Gaglione's charge that the board made its decision in secret, although neither suggested they would be open to changing or postponing their decision.

Terrence Clark, vice president of Twin City Ambulance, said the company approached the board about designation to operate in Buffalo last June. Clark argued that the effect of the board's decision would be to give city residents a choice in ambulance service providers.

North Council Member Dale L. Zuchlewski raised the question of how the board's decision would affect the jobs of 100 Rural/Metro employees who reside in the city. Clark estimated that only about 12 of Twin City Ambulance's 100 employees live in Buffalo. Clark added that the company plans to hire 20 more Buffalo residents and initiate a minority training and hiring program.

Rural/Metro started its own minority training program in 1991 after its predecessor, LaSalle Ambulance, became the sole operator in Buffalo in that year. The company also added more ambulances and crews and installed a state-of-the-art communications center on Delaware Avenue.

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