BERNARDS TWP., NJ _ The long-discussed plan to contract with a paid ambulance service that would answer weekday emergency calls when fewer volunteers are available moved a step closer to reality this week, when township officials were directed to begin talks with professional Emergency Medical Services (EMS) providers. 

The plan has the support of both the Basking Ridge and Liberty Corner EMS and Fire Co. organizations, said Police Chief Mike Shimsky, speaking on behalf of the volunteer EMS squads.

Volunteers will continue to answer calls as they are able, township officials said at Tuesday's Township Committee meeting.

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The conclusion was reached after about three years of study, during which volunteers realized that, as in many communities, it had become harder and harder for volunteers to answer calls from  growing number of residents and businesses, Shimsky said at the meeting.

"We are the a breaking point, and it's not getting any better," Shimsky said. "We are all in agreement that we have to do something.

The paid EMS responders would bill patients independently of the township, and both Shimsky and Township Administrator Pat Monaco offered assurances that they would be seeking contractors who would agree to "soft billing," and who would pressure those underinsured or unable to pay. 

Monaco said the township will meet with qualified EMS services and finish setting up an arrangement in the next few months.

The Basking Ridge Fire Co. and EMS responded first to endorse the plan in corresondence at Tuesday's Township Comittee meeting. On Tuesday, Shimsky said the Liberty Corner volunteer organization is also on board with the plan, but had not yet responded.

"Higher call volumes, increased training requirements, and a shrinking pool of new volunteers is making it steadily more difficult to serve the community in the manner in which we are accustomed,
 the correspondence from the Basking Ridge volunteer company states.

The Basking Ridge Fire Co. and EMS responded first to endorse the plan, which was put on the agenda of last Tuesday's Township Committee meeting. On Tuesday night, Shimsky, who was longtime Office of Emergency Management coordinator in the township, said that the Liberty Corner volunteer organization is also on board with the plan, but had not yet responded.

"Third party EMS providers generally derive operating costs reimbursements for services from patients for whom services are provided, including, but not limited to, insurance, Medicare and Medicaid coverage," Shimsky said last week. The chief said it is the township's intention to use this payment model.