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Steubenville closer to new ambulance service

NEARLY READY — Steubenville Fire Chief Carlo Capaldi says the department is close to being able to field at least one of its two new ambulances. (Photo by Linda Harris)

STEUBENVILLE — Fire Chief Carlo Capaldi said the department’s “to-do” list for their new ambulance service is getting shorter, though there’s still lots to be done.

Capaldi, though, said they’re getting close to getting at least one ambulance on the road — a first in the department’s 134-year-old history.

“Our goal is Oct. 1,” he said. “It depends if all the equipment is in, if we have the stuff to do it, but that’s our goal date. There are a lot of factors involved, there’s still a lot of work we’re trying to do.”

Although they’d initially figured on executing a lease-to-own arrangement, City Council opted instead to buy two brand new ambulances after finding out the purchases qualified for federal CARES Act funding. CARES money is also paying to equip and stock them.

He said it’s saving the city about $400,000 in start-up costs — about $105,000 each for the ambulances, plus another $70,000 each for equipment and $20,000 each for supplies.

They’ve also applied for a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant, a FEMA initiative created to provide funding directly to fire departments so they can increase or retain trained firefighters in their communities. SAFER grants assist with the costs of hiring additional personnel or retaining those already on staff.

Capaldi said they’re hoping to get funding for nine positions, which would bring the department to its full, 40-firefighter complement.

“SAFER grant or not, we have to hire people,” he said, pointing out that while they already have some firefighters with EMT or paramedic credentials, they don’t have enough to fully staff the ambulance. To expedite the hiring process, he said they’ve already interviewed the prospects so they’ll be ready to act once FEMA’s decision is in.

“But even after we choose who to hire, there’s pre-employment testing that has to be done,” he advised, “and that can take a couple weeks.”

He said they do have firefighters on staff now who are taking EMT and paramedic classes at Eastern Gateway Community College, and that’s going to be a big help.

“It’s not mandatory,” Capaldi said. “These are people who want to do it, they’re basically doing it on their own. They’re doing it because they want to help the department.”

Capaldi said they’re currently planning to house the ambulances at the downtown station, but that means finding space somewhere else for their reserve truck. He said City Manager Jim Mavromatis has been working on that, locating a space he thinks will work perfectly for them.

“A lot of people are helping out, a lot of people are waiting for us to get started,” Capaldi said. “That’s why we got into this, because we wanted to help the agencies who are already providing help to the city of Steubenville. Most of those agencies had already told the city they needed help.”

Emergency calls have been on the uptick in Steubenville, straining the resources of its longtime EMS provider, Ambulance Service Inc., as well as the city’s mutual aid partners.

Capaldi insists there’s no question the service is needed: A firetruck currently responds to every emergency call that comes in “because they can respond in two to five minutes anywhere in the city. We can get there quicker, but we’re limited in what we can do.”

“In July, we had 300 total calls for our department,” Capaldi said, “and 215 of them were for EMS. We (send) our trucks (to assist) until the ambulance shows up.”

The new service will handle emergency calls only, he added.

“We’re not setting this up to do non-emergency calls or transports,” he said. “That would defeat the purpose of what we’re trying to do. We want to provide emergency treatment in a timely manner.”

“We’re doing this because the city of Steubenville needs help,” he added. “And actually, the agencies providing the service to the city need help. Nobody can do it on their own. We’ll still have to have a list of mutual aid partners we would call for help when we’re busy. We will still need our mutual aid partners.”

Steubenville still has CARES funding available, so Capaldi they’re planning to ask council to consider using some of it to purchase a third ambulance — not to run on a daily basis, but as an emergency backup in the event one of the others has to go in for service.

“Any grant we get is going to help us build money into the EMS fund, so we can hold true to the statement council made that they don’t want to do it with a levy,” he said. “We’re going to do everything possible to run this without having to ask for a levy, we’re going to apply for every grant we can. We want this service to be self-sufficient.”

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