Around 90 percent of New York’s fire departments are all volunteer-based, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. Many of these departments are the first on the scene, providing medical treatment and transport, however, calls have only increased in some areas due to COVID-19.
The Selden Fire Department in Suffolk County normally runs an average of 3,500 EMS calls a year on top of their normal fire and rescue calls. When the pandemic was at its peak in the state, Selden FD was running 40-50 percent more EMS calls per day than usual.
Volunteer fire departments are the only ones that can not bill for their ambulance services. Senator John Brooks from Long Island introduced an EMS cost recovery bill that would allow for insurance providers to be billed for ambulance services.
"While their families worry for their safety, funds needed for protective equipment are limited," Senator Brooks said in a statement. "This bill would allow our volunteer fire EMS to recover these important expenditures at no additional cost to the taxpayer."
Commercial, municipal, hospital, and volunteer EMS can bill insurance providers to recover operational costs. New York is the only state which prohibits its volunteer fire services from recovering these costs.
"Hundreds of volunteer fire departments across our state provide their communities with ambulance service, which is a costly and manpower-intense endeavor," the Firemen's Association of New York state wrote. "In many communities, the volunteer fire department’s ambulance is the only emergency response  ambulance in the area."
The association continued, "COVID-19 has added additional challenges and costs. Volunteer fire departments providing ambulance transportation services need access to the ability to recover some of the costs of these services by accessing existing insurance coverages for ambulance transportation; the same as every other ambulance service in New York."
According to FASNY, allowing these ambulance services to be reimbursed by insurance companies, would provide around $100 million in economic resources to fire departments around the state.
This bill has bipartisan cosponsors in both houses and is carried in the Assembly by Assemblyman Billy Jones from Plattsburgh. Both houses of the legislature will be returning remotely on Tuesday to vote and pass COVID-related bills, before the legislative year is over at the end of May.