BERNARDS TWP., NJ -- If all goes as planned, township residents or visitors who call for ambulance service on weekdays starting this fall will receive a response from a paid ambulance service.

Both the all-volunteer Liberty Corner and Basking Ridge emergency squads will remain active, township officials said at Tuesday's Bernards Township Committee meeting.

However, 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, said Bernards Police Chief Michael Shimsky, speaking on behalf of both volunteer emergency medical service squads.

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Hours would be 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., officials say

He said most of the 1,800 annual calls to the squads are logged on weekdays between 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., which is when officials are looking to implement the paid ambulance service. The volunteers would respond at other times, according to this week's discussion.

"We are at the breaking point," Shimsky told the Township Committee. He added the change does not diminish the dedication of the volunteer squads, but with shortages during workdays, "We have had some situations that could have turned critical [when callers] needed transport to the hospital immediately."

Shimsky said the decision was reached after several years of discussion by emergency responders. The idea was first unveiled at a Township Committee meeting earlier this year.

Township Administrator Pat Monaco said the township will seek proposals from ambulance services, with the primary EMS providers in the area being Robert Wood Johnson or Atlantic Healthcare services.

The township will offer the ambulance crews a home base in the community center off Stonehouse Road, Monaco said. However, he said the squads, which also supplement EMS service in other communities, sometimes drive around the area waiting for calls.

Township seeking 'soft billing'

Monaco said that part of negotiations with the ambulance services would be to seek "soft billing" for calls in the township. He said he interprets soft billing as meaning that the ambulance services would accept whatever payment the caller's insurance coverage provides.

Monaco said the township's move to paid weekday service meets a "patient-centric" goal. He said that the township wants to make sure that when someone dials 9-1-1 for emergency care "someone gets there...as quickly as possible."

After getting out the proposals, and conducting discussions with the EMS services, Monaco said the paid ambulances might begin responding to emergency calls by around September.