Thursday, May 6, 2010

Response to PTA Support for Ambulance Fee

Dear Parents of Montgomery County students:
Yesterday, I was advised that the Whitman PTA had circulated a request that all parents send the Montgomery County Council a letter urging the Council to adopt "revenue enhancements," including the proposed ambulance fee.  As a result of many inaccurate facts being disseminated by proponents of the proposed fees, I am writing this letter to provide you, the parents, with the other side of the issue. 
First and foremost, each of you should know that the language of the bill specifically provides that the money gained through the ambulance fee will be used to supplement (and not supplant) existing fire and rescue budgets, which means that the Montgomery County school system will receive absolutely no additional monies through imposition of the proposed fees. Indeed, the fees will ultimately detrimentally affect the finances of the County, which may mean additional future cuts.
Mr. Leggett has argued that insurance companies will be paying the bills. This is misleading. First, the bill specifically notes that except in the case of hardship, which must be submitted in the form of a waiver, that “each individual who receives an emergency medical services transport is responsible for paying the . . .. transport fee.” Second, if insurance companies do ultimately assume the cost of the fees, they will be forced to re-coup their costs through raised premiums. While proponents have argued that the increases will be minimal, I, as a business owner, will beg to differ. Even a 1% increase in premiums will result in thousands of dollars in increased costs to companies currently paying health insurance premiums, resulting in those companies’ being forced to decrease the benefits provided to employees.

In 2009, press releases by the County stated that the fees were intended “to recover costs generated by providing . . . transports via County ambulances.” Where once the intent was to seemingly limit the fee to “County ambulances,” which would necessarily remove those transports provided by NON-County purchased units, the County Executive has now broadened the imposition of the fee to all Fire and Rescue service vehicles, regardless of how those vehicles were purchased, how the equipment onboard the units was purchased, how the fuel was purchased, and whether the personnel staffing the vehicles are volunteers or career members of the fire and rescue services. It should be noted that several stations in the County (including the BCC Rescue Squad) are either entirely (as in the case of BCCRS) or substantially funded by community donations, meaning that the equipment, gas, vehicles, buildings, etc. are not owned or operated by the County.  And yet, the County Executive still intends to charge for transports made in those units.

The County Executive’s current plan is perhaps most short-sighted in its potential effect on fire service volunteers. Notwithstanding that no money will actually make its way back to fund non-County owned stations, volunteers, non-County purchased vehicles, or non-County purchased equipment, some County residents will believe that donating to these organizations will be unnecessary (since they will believe that the fees being imposed are going to all fire and rescue departments in the County). If donations decrease substantially to these organizations (like BCC Rescue Squad and Wheaton Rescue Squad), how will the County Executive avoid incurring millions and millions of dollars in costs to hire career fire personnel to do jobs currently performed by volunteers and provide or replace community-purchased fuel, vehicles, or equipment? The County Executive will lose every cent he proposes to raise and more – putting the County (and its education system) in more fiscal jeopardy in three or ten years (long after his departure) than it is in now.

Finally, as some of you may be aware, fire and rescue departments throughout Montgomery County (including BCC Rescue Squad) provide opportunities for high school children to volunteer in the communitiies where they live.  The experiences these kids have are invaluable to personal development.  Young volunteers are taught what it means to give back to the community, be compassionate, be responsible, undertake difficult and demanding training, and respond, day and night, to help others and guide them through tragedies.  If ambulance fees are imposed, these programs, and the entire volunteer system in Montgomery County, are at risk.  Therefore, and for the reasons noted above, we urge you to oppose these ambulance fees.

Brooke Davies,
Vice President, Bethesda Chevy Chase Rescue Squad
Chief Operating Officer, Davies Consulting, Inc.


  1. Question for the volunteer fire/rescue dept reps: considering the size of the county and the increasing population, why are there even volunteer firefighters/rescue responders at all? All should be county employees. Not that I don't appreciate their services. Every volunteer company that I know of is wonderful - and very busy. These important services shouldn't run on donations.

  2. To respond to the comment above, every volunteer firefighter or EMT saves the county in wages, health and life insurance benefits. I believe a paid firefighter/EMT's starting salary is in the low to mid $40K. Volunteers, from the youngest one to the volunteer chief's with 25 years of service do not get paid. Take a look at the salaries of the paid firefighters in the papers later in the year and many are the top wage earners.


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