BURNS HARBOR | Many municipalities across the region have been eying or acquiring advanced life support ambulance service rather than outsourcing to private service providers.
The town of Burns Harbor Fire began offering ALS ambulance service at the beginning of 2013, but that may come to an end due to costs.
Prior to 2013, Burns Harbor used the ambulance services of Porter Regional Hospital. Councilman Gene Weibl said residents were sometimes waiting 45 minutes for a response to an emergency.
Jeff Freeze, vice president of the Burns Harbor Town Council, said helping its residents led them to take up the ALS service for a year with hopes of finding a solution to funding.
“We were able to locate and get a very good price on a used rig from Wisconsin and we solicited donations from some of our corporate residents who helped to stock it to pass certification," Freeze said. They began taking calls in November 2012.
But the costs of operation grew large even though the town took steps to abate that cost.
Those steps have not proven successful and Burns Harbor now finds itself with a large six-figure deficit for its ALS ambulance costs.
“What has become apparent is that the revenue generated by the ambulance service falls significantly short of covering the remaining costs of service. ...So we have had to assess whether or not we can afford ALS service,” Freeze said.
After a public input meeting in November, the Town Council will vote on continuing or eliminating the service Tuesday.
“It’s a shame," Freeze said. "It has been fantastic and I believe it has saved lives this year in Burns Harbor, and I’m not putting costs on those lives. We really believed we could find a way to recoup costs and we all agreed we’d give it a year and it’s pretty clear to us that this is a dollar and cents decision, although it’s hard to say that to people when it’s the call that saves their mother’s life, but that’s the nature of it.”
Weibl said a town the size of Burns Harbor can’t acquire the funds that other areas can obtain. Portage has about 40,000 residents; Burns Harbor about 1,200, he said.
Burns Harbor Fire Chief William Arney said he hopes the town will find a solution.
“As one of the people who helped to put this service in, I’m hoping the Town Council can find the financial resources somewhere to keep it in place like it is. If they can’t, I hope to find a service that will provide ALS ambulance service from our station in Burns Harbor,” Arney said.