BERNARDS TWP., NJ _ [Updated] The Bernards Township Committee unanimously voted at its Tuesday meeting to approve a contract with a paid ambulance service to answer emergency calls on weekdays between 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., effective Oct. 1.

Residents would continue to call 9-1-1 for dispatch service for emergency calls, according to Police Chief Mike Shimsky. Volunteers from the Basking Ridge and Liberty Corner First Aid Squads will continue to answer calls to dispatch service outside of the weekday hours, according to officials.

The resolution on the Sept. 24 Township Committee agenda awarded the contract to Atlantic Ambulance Corps of Livingston, affiliated with Atlantic Health Systems that includes the Morristown Medical Center.

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Billing for the professional service will be a matter between the caller and the ambulance service, with township officials saying multiple times they had sought a promise of "soft billing" for residents waiting for payment from insurance. Shimsky said on Tuesday that the township will negotiate covering potential shortfalls with Atlantic Health Systems for residents who cannot pay the bill, or are uninsured.

Mayor Carol Bianchi on Tuesday stressed the township's continuing appreciation to the volunteer organizations, but said that obtaining coverage at certain hours is a matter of "safety."

[More to come]

As the township has continued to grow, along with training obligations for emergency medical volunteers, it has become harder for the all-volunteer first aid squads to respond to all emergency calls, especially during weekdays when volunteer coverage is lightest.

Liberty Corner Squad Capt. Fred Miller, who was at Tuesday's meeting, said that squad has 40 volunteers on its roster, but about 15 provide most of the service.

A request for a proposal was put out in July to two ambulance services affiliated with hospital networks in the area, RWJ Health Network and the Atlantic Ambulance Corps.

The need for emergency medical service assistance during weekday years was under discussion by the two first aid squads in the township, in Basking Ridge and Liberty Corner, for a number years before it brought before the Township Committee earlier this year.

As Bernards Township's population and commercial construction has swelled, and fewer volunteers are available to answer calls during workdays, the township's all-volunteer squads have not been able to keep up with the volume of calls, Shimsky, speaking on behalf of both volunteer emergency medical service squads, said at a previous meeting.

According to Tuesday's resolution, Atlantic Ambulance Corp., has detailed in their response to provide two (2) trucks stationed in Bernards Township; a billing model that will allow Bernards Township to provide a subsidy for their residents cost sharing amount; to lease space at fair market value to house up to three (3) ambulances; and will not charge the township any amount above the negotiated cost for subsidy to cover resident’s cost sharing amount. 

Asked by TAP into Basking Ridge whether a plan paid firefighters is likely to follow, both Shimsky and Pat Monaco, township administrator agreed that the Basking Ridge Fire Co. and Liberty Corner Fire Co. are remaining as all-volunteer organizations.

"There are currently no plans for establishing a paid fire department, part time or otherwise, in the township," Shimsky said in an email. "Both township fire departments experience an extremely lower number of call volume as compared to their EMS counterparts. Additionally, the township enjoys being able to get help as needed from the Lyons VA [Veterans Administration] Fire Department which is professionally staffed 24/7 and located in the center of the township on the Lyons VA campus."

"The major challenge that we were addressing is the increasing ambulance call volume burdening the all-volunteer squads," Shimsky said in the email. "We spent a few years with our task force conducting a comprehensive review as well as examining how other communities are dealing with the issue. The goal is to lighten the load for the volunteers and to provide a paid service during the peak hours the township experiences the most amount of calls with the least amount of volunteer staff available."