Cohoes seeks short-term solution for ambulance issue

The discussion continued Tuesday evening in Cohoes about the city’s ambulance service.

After 13 Investigates’ report on the debate about EMS calls, the common council’s public safety committee gathered once again to discuss the best way forward.

As 13 Investigates has been reporting, the city’s longstanding agreement with Empire Ambulance ended. Now the city is paying $50,000 on a month-to-month contract for EMS service with private company Ambulnz, which took over Empire’s license. 

Tuesday’s meeting included passionate comments from the community about the best short-term solution while the city works on a long-term plan.

Mayor Bill Keeler and Fire Chief Joseph Fahd are strongly in favor of a contract with Ambulnz. Last week, Mohawk Ambulance dropped its bid to provide service because of what it called disparaging comments by Fahd at a recent meeting about EMS, including comments that the company has issues finding employees and cannot handle EMS calls in Cohoes.

A letter from Mohawk to Fahd advised him to cease and desist from further comments about the company “that are false.” The letter said, “Failure to do so will result in legal action against you and the City of Cohoes.”

Fahd and Keeler were absent from Tuesday’s meeting.

The common council addressed concerns that the two ignored communication from Mohawk, the area’s largest private EMS provider, before its bid was pulled.

The fire union wants the city to consider letting firefighters run the ambulance service and generate revenue for the city to offset the cost. The union’s president, Rob Wattsman, said the city should sign with Ambulanz short term while it makes a plan to let the department run EMS.

Wattsman is concerned the city could sign a $600,000 contract with Ambulnz for a full year without seeing the fire department as a viable option. The contract could mean a tax increase in 2024 for residents if the city doesn’t get that money from somewhere else, Keeler told 13 Investigates. 

“I’m not saying that Local 2562 Cohoes Fire is the answer for the ambulance service, but if the residents are spending about $1 million and we can help offset any of that money, to put back into the system to increase staffing, buy more trucks, et cetera, et cetera, it’s something that we should really look at,” Wattsman said.

The public safety committee said everyone can agree, though, that the city needs two ambulances for 911 calls. It currently has one, operated by Ambulnz.

“We are working towards a solution, possibly a solution that includes our own in-house EMS. But that is not going to happen tomorrow, but it’s something we are seriously looking at and considering. We’re trying to fix a long-term problem. We’re ready to provide a short-term solution,” said Councilman Adam Biggs of the 5th Ward.

The common council could sign a contract at its meeting Tuesday, April 25. The city is hiring an auditor to study the best solution. Keeler told 13 Investigates the report is expected in May.