Fire Department To End Free Rescue Rides

Posted: February 22, 1988

The Philadelphia Fire Department will soon begin charging for emergency medical services that previously were offered free.

Fire Commissioner William C. Richmond said the fee program, which was proposed to City Council last July, will save the city money and should curtail abuses of the system by people who make unnecessary emergency calls.

"We have people calling in for animal problems," Richmond said. "It seems funny now, but it's not humorous at 4 o'clock in the morning after a squad's already been out 13 times. That would test the patience of the pope."

Richmond, who said he began formulating plans for the fee program after he ''got the go-ahead from the city," set a March 14 date for implementing the plan.

He emphasized, however, that a person's inability to pay will not stop emergency personnel from providing service.

He said emergency medical services people will provide the same service as before fees were set.

"No one will be denied because they cannot pay," the commissioner said. ''And no one will be denied because they do not have insurance."

Richmond, who plans to brief Mayor Goode on the final version of the proposal during the mayor's Cabinet meeting tomorrow, said Philadelphia is ''probably the last major city to get into billing" for emergency medical services.

"The increasing service demand and its attendant cost has come to the point that we have to cover what we can," Richmond said.

Richmond said the proposed fees, which range from $20 for oxygen to $235 for advanced-life-support service, were established after surveying area health providers that offer comparable services.

The city has budgeted $13 million for this year's EMS operation, a cost Richmond hopes to mitigate by between $1.2 million and $4 million in EMS

revenues.

Richmond said he hopes the fees will discourage people from making what he termed "abuse calls," or calls that do not require an emergency response.

In 1987, the Fire Department logged more than 108,000 emergency rescue runs, up 10,000 from 1986 and up 20,000 from 1984, Richmond said.

About 45 percent of those were non-transport runs, which are runs in which a caller is not taken to a hospital or other medical facility, Richmond said. ''A considerable amount" of that 45 percent could be attributed to abuse calls, Richmond said.

"We are an emergency medical service," Richmond said, "and that's what we should be reserved for."

Although Richmond has set his sights on March 14 to start charging emergency callers, he said some time in April may be a more realistic date.

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