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Backup ambulances stir argument in Lancaster

Six months after engaging in contentious contract negotiations with the Town of Lancaster, the Lancaster Volunteer Ambulance Corps is back sparring over provisions of the pact.

The disagreement centers on which outside ambulance corps should respond to emergency calls in the town at times when the volunteer corps doesn't have an available ambulance.

The issue flared up at Monday's Town Board meeting when Lancaster's town attorney and a lawyer representing the volunteer ambulance corps engaged in a heated public argument.

"His comments were frivolous and spurious and out of line," Town Attorney John M. Dudziak, said in an interview Tuesday, referring to the accusations from corps lawyer Bradley M. Pinsky.

The volunteer corps' contract with the town assigns Rural/Metro Medical Services as the backup ambulance service in Lancaster, but members of the volunteer corps want Twin City Ambulance to take that position.

While town officials say the dispute hasn't affected emergency services in Lancaster, a woman did wait 20 minutes for an ambulance to arrive after calling for help on July 13.

Dudziak called in corps representatives for a closed-door meeting Monday night to discuss that incident.

"My God, the first time we miss a call, they jump on us," Pinsky said in an interview.

The town and the Lancaster Volunteer Ambulance Corps in late 2010 and early this year spent four months negotiating a renewed emergency-services agreement.

Rural/Metro had asked the town to give other agencies the chance to bid on the contract, a request that was not greeted enthusiastically by the corps.

The town had paid $45,000 per year to the corps but ended those payments as part of the contract settlement that was reached in February and runs through Dec. 31.

Corps members want Twin City to serve in the backup role, in part because of the tensions that developed between the two agencies during the contract dispute, but the town hasn't budged.

The backup agency question came to a head at 1:45 p.m. July 13, when a Grambo Drive resident made an emergency call complaining of shortness of breath, according to a letter sent by Dudziak to Pinsky.

A corps staffer said the corps didn't have an available ambulance and "repeatedly instructed" a town emergency dispatcher to call Twin City, Dudziak wrote.

The dispatcher called Twin City at 1:49 p.m.

Another corps member responded to the Grambo Drive call in his personal vehicle at 2:01 p.m., and a Twin City ambulance finally arrived at 2:05 p.m.

Dudziak noted in his letter that either of two nearby Rural/Metro ambulances could have responded sooner than the corps or Twin City.

"A resident waited 20 minutes for an ambulance when we were eight minutes up the road," Adin J. Bradley, division general manager of Western New York operations for Rural/Metro, said in an interview.

Pinsky said the corps, which has six ambulances, hadn't missed any emergency calls this year until the July 13 call, when five ambulances were on the road, and the sixth was undergoing repairs.

The volunteer corps' mutual-aid plan for the town would see a Twin City ambulance moved to corps headquarters whenever the corps is down to one crew, Pinsky said, assuring a backup ambulance would be in place.

"What could be better than a 100-percent guarantee?" he said, adding he doesn't know why the town has declined to approve that plan.

Dozens of corps members attended Monday's Town Board meeting, where town and corps members were scheduled to meet in executive session to discuss the contract.

However, Pinsky spoke twice during public-comment periods, demanding to know why correspondence between him and Dudziak had not been released to the public at previous meetings.

"We're not doing this now," Dudziak said as Pinsky delved into the mutual-aid disagreement.

"Why are you hiding it from the public?" Pinsky replied.

For now, town officials say they will hold the corps to the provisions of the contract, and Rural/Metro will be called when corps ambulances aren't available.

The contract has a two-year renewal option, and either party reserves the right to forgo the extension by giving the other side 45 days notice.

Rural/Metro's Bradley said his company would be interested in bidding on the contract if given the chance at the end of this year.

Lancaster Fire Chief James N. Robinson said he supports the work of the volunteer corps.

"However, if someone would ask me, 'Do you care which company comes in on backup?' I would say, 'I don't care, just give me an ambulance,' " Robinson said.

The dispute hasn't affected town residents yet, Police Chief Gerald J. Gill Jr. said.

"Our department's experience with the LVAC, this latest situation not withstanding, has been favorable. And, for the sake of the citizenry, we hope this fracas terminates promptly," Gill said.

email: swatson@buffnews.com

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