YOU ARE HERE: HeraldMail HomeCollectionsEms

City looks for new ambulance deal

The City Council voted Thursday to start leasing used ambulances in an effort to separate itself from Ryneal.

The City Council voted Thursday to start leasing used ambulances in an effort to separate itself from Ryneal.

March 07, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Martinsburg City Council members voted Thursday to start leasing used ambulances and buying new equipment in an effort to acquire an EMS license and separate the city from Ryneal Fire Co. No. 1.

City officials also have filed a lawsuit against Ryneal, demanding that Ryneal open its financial records and that three ambulances and other equipment currently titled to Ryneal be turned over to the city.

The dispute between Ryneal, a for-profit, non-city entity, and the city has been ongoing.

Since 1985, Ryneal has billed and collected for ambulance services - which are performed by city-salaried paramedics - and used that money to buy ambulances for the city. Ryneal also pays for equipment, cell phones and training for paramedics and firefighters, according to Ryneal president Mary Helmick.


City Manager Mark Baldwin has said repeatedly the city should be doing that billing, collecting and equipment purchasing.

In its lawsuit, the city also asked that a restraining order be issued so Ryneal officials cannot tow the ambulances and squad truck, as they nearly did last month. The vehicles are housed at the fire department's main station on Raleigh Street.

Circuit Court Judge David Sanders held an emergency hearing on the matter early Thursday morning. He ordered that Ryneal not sell or remove the vehicles. After the city obtains its own ambulances, Ryneal can take the ones titled to them, Sanders ruled.

To determine who owns the ambulances and clear up other questions, a jury trial is scheduled for June 10.

The disagreement between Ryneal and the city stems from obtaining a state license to perform emergency medical services. Ryneal, which has a meeting room at the fire station, holds the one for Martinsburg, and could continue to do so if a written agreement was in place with the city, Helmick said.

But city officials want to hold the license, and took steps to do so at a special meeting Thursday night.

To obtain a license, the city must have ambulances. By a 6-1 vote, the council decided to:

  • Lease three ambulances for 26 weeks.

  • Buy equipment for those ambulances, at an estimated cost of $44,300.

  • Pay $20,000 in attorney fees for the court case.

Lease costs will be $500 per week per ambulance for the first four weeks, and $475 per week per ambulance after that, according to council members.

Money for the expenditures will come from the Martinsburg Fire Department's budget, Mayor George Karos said.

Councilman Chris Baker voiced the lone dissenting vote.

"To just shut the door on (Ryneal) like this, I don't think it's appropriate," Baker said. He said a "real effort" to come to an agreement is needed.

One matter both sides agree upon is that an agreement has not been possible. Helmick said Thursday night that it is not for a lack of trying.

Several proposals from Ryneal were forwarded to the city, including one proposal in which the current verbal agreement between the city and Ryneal for EMS would stay in place, except be in written form. Another proposal was to lease Ryneal's three ambulances to the city for $13,500 a month for five years, or $18,500 a month for two years, according to copies of the proposals provided by Helmick.

If the current verbal agreement remains in place but becomes a written deal, the city fears that Ryneal's EMS license could be revoked or terminated, leaving the city without ambulance services, according to the city's lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed this week in Berkeley County Circuit Court, calls for Ryneal to open its financial records.

City officials believe Ryneal receives $200,000 to $275,000 each year for services, court records show.

The Herald-Mail Articles