A new — and old — volunteer ambulance corps for Highland

By LIAM MAYO
Posted 11/2/21

HIGHLAND, NY — The American Legion has a long history of providing ambulance services within the Town of Highland.  

According to a post on the legion’s website, veterans …

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A new — and old — volunteer ambulance corps for Highland

Posted

HIGHLAND, NY — The American Legion has a long history of providing ambulance services within the Town of Highland.  

According to a post on the legion’s website, veterans returning from World War II founded Sylvan Lieba Post 1363 in 1946. “By 1948, the fledgling post was looking around to see how it could serve its community.”  

The veterans of that post decided they could best serve by forming a volunteer ambulance corps. They founded the American Legion Ambulance Corps, purchasing a used ambulance and relying on medical training they’d received in the military.  

The post and the corps remained closely linked, operating for over 70 years as a single entity, but with veterans aging out of the corps and newer volunteers not belonging to the legion, the post and the corps started to drift apart. According to Michael Frey, an attorney who currently represents the ambulance corps, the current ambulance corps does not include any members of the American Legion.   

Several months ago, the post decided to make its separation from the ambulance corps final. It sent a letter dated August 9 to the Town of Highland, informing the town that it did not want to renew the ambulance contract between them; the town had previously contracted with the post to provide ambulance services to the town, services which it provided through the ambulance corps.  

The volunteers who make up Highland’s ambulance corps still want to serve their community.  

“We’re not here for us,” says Anthony LaRuffa, town justice and captain of the corps. “We’re here to serve the community, and the people who pass through the community.”

A lot of restructuring needs to happen for those volunteers to keep serving after the post’s contract expires.  

Now that the post is no longer providing ambulance services, the volunteers of the corps need to establish their own LLC; this they have done, according to Fray. The town will then establish a contract with that corporation to provide ambulance services, similar to the contract it had with the legion.  

The new corporation and the post need to negotiate for the ambulance corps’ equipment: two ambulances, equipment for said ambulances, and the lease of a garage, to name a few. Frey says the corps is hoping to get enough equipment from the post to get started, but that negotiations are still ongoing.  

While those negotiations occur, the town has its own restructuring to do.  

After receiving the post’s August letter, the town started the process of establishing an ambulance district.  

The town currently funds the ambulance corps through the public safety portion of the general fund. According to a survey of Sullivan County EMS agencies conducted by the Benjamin Center, the town funds around 30 percent of the corps’ $100,000 in annual costs; Highland’s 2021 budget set aside $33,000 for the corps. It is expected that that same amount of money will be raised by the ambulance district in 2022, if approved.

The town could fund the new corporation through the same mechanism. Since the ambulance service will cover the same geographic area as the Town of Highland, establishing a separate ambulance district isn’t strictly necessary, according to Bradley Pinsky, a lawyer specializing in fire and EMS law whom the town retained for assistance.

One benefit is that forming a district establishes ambulance funding as a separate line item on town taxes, letting taxpayers see exactly how much is being raised to support the corps. “The town is intentionally being very transparent,” says Pinsky.  

The town will hold a public hearing on the creation of the ambulance district on November 9 at 6:30 p.m..  

The public notice of the hearing sets the boundaries of the proposed ambulance district at the entire geographic limits of the Town of Highland. It also establishes a maximum estimated amount to be spent in town funding, setting that number at $100,000.  

According to Pinsky, that maximum amount is a legal requirement, set intentionally high to avoid challenges if the town ever needs to increase funding to the ambulance district.

While work on all of the above is progressing quickly, it might not be completed quickly enough.  

The American Legion post’s contract expires on January 1; if the new ambulance corporation is not fully established by then, the town would be without an ambulance service. Highland is preparing for that eventuality by talking with a for-profit ambulance corps, according to Frey.  

But the ultimate goal is to have the same volunteers providing the same service to the town that they always have, change of corporations notwithstanding.  

“Nothing is going to change,” says LaRuffa. “And hopefully we can get new people to volunteer.”

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