Council Approves Ambulance Service

City council has voted to establish a paid 24-hour ambulance service, Seth Rosen writes in the Progress, planning to spend $1M to hire a half dozen medics and buy a pair of ambulances. This came after a committee established by Mayor David Brown recommended a half-time service, although the representatives from the county fire department and the rescue squad voted against it. Council’s decision is going to be controversial, especially because the all-volunteer, donation-funded Charlottesville Albemarle Rescue Squad is such a beloved community institution. The city doesn’t pay a dime towards the operation of CARS, leaving CARS and its supporters wondering why the city doesn’t just chip in to support it, rather than launch a competing service. The new service should start next year. The vote was 4-1, with Kevin Lynch opposing.

41 thoughts on “Council Approves Ambulance Service”

  1. What’s the backstory here? On the face of things, given the heavy tax burden, this decision seems to make no sense. And yet, precious little explanation from the 4 who voted for it. What gives?

  2. Last week I injured my leg and it was CARS to the rescue. On the way to the hospital I found out one of the ambulance personnel was a full time firefighter/medic employed by Albemarle County. When I asked if he was volunteering his time, he told me no, that he was assigned by the County to work at CARS. Wouldn’t it have been more prudent for the city, if they felt they had to augment ambulance service, to replicate what Albemarle was doing? This would have at least eliminated the need for the City to purchase ambulances and if they felt more ambulances were needed the fact that there was still a volunteer base would have at least cut overall personnel costs.
    I see multiple benefits of mixing full time and volunteer crews and commend the CARS administration for making it work. You can guarantee a minimum level of training on every ambulance going on a call by setting the requirements equal to the level of training of the full time firefighter/medic.
    Having full time trained, experienced personnel can serve as teacher/trainers for volunteers while they learn their craft.
    If there are adequate volunteers available with the appropriate training, the firefighter/medic can be released to augment fire service personnel who have called in sick or are on vacation, saving the taxpayer money by not having to call someone in and pay overtime pay.
    At any rate, thanks CARS for the excellent care I received.

  3. Gosh, it seems Charles Werner always gets his way. Esp. with his old boss now on City Council. It cracks me up when I see him driving around town in that SUV with the satellite dish on top. Breaker, breaker 1-9, looks like we got us an “ambulance service”.

  4. The committee created by the Mayor agrees that the Rescue Squad is meeting the response time goals that the committee set. So, why did we just get an additional ambulance? The city population is decreasing and yet city government is adding a service to decrease response times that are already better than their committee says they need to be.

    I am impressed by today’s Daily Progress’ editorial. This is what a community paper should do: Stand up for the community, their needs and common sense.

  5. Check out my post on the situation “What is going on?” at for some back story. I need to check out that editorial.

  6. What exactly is going on? Adding an expensive and it sounds like unnecessary ambulance service to city expenses and building private gyms on parkland? I’m usually a partisan Democrat and city cheerleader, but this is ridiculous and I’m angry. Where else can I vent?

  7. Once more City Council displays its “we know whats best for you”(the public, the taxpayers). This ambulance service, the YMCA deal, the worthless transit center-and so on.
    Whats disturbing is that in the case of the YMCA decision 3 people made a decision about the public’s property. In the emergency services case, they obviously did not listen to the CARS representatives.
    That is a called arrogance. As Lord Acton said : “power tends to corrupt.Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” So it is with our City Clowncil.
    Hoqw can we check or balance this oligarchy? Low voter turnout at Council elections is part of the problem. But maybe people think whats the use, the Dem machine is invincible.
    Maybe some sort of ward system would make for changes.Its time to try something. Of course of lot of people vote with their feet,and leave for more congenial surroundings. But many can’t or do not wish to, for whatever reason.
    I voted for Schilling in’06, and for Kleeman and Haskins last time, for all the good that did.

  8. No Surprise, is Werner the one driving that fuel guzzling Ford Excursion around? The taxpayers have no idea how much fuel that damn thing burns.

  9. After hearing the news about the new city funded ambulance service, I have several questions How will it impact CARS’ future fundraising, and consequently their ability to serve the area? Will North Downtown residents be served by the closest squad? Who’s going to make decisions about which areas are covered by which squad. Will consumers have a choice? How is duplicating an already existing service consistent with the city’s “green” goals?

  10. Werner drives a hybrid Ford Escape.

    Brown’s committee actually recommended the 24-hr service for an additional $100k more ($500k bought peak time; $600k bought full-time).

    Would like to see a FOI report on CARS finances. Any word on how much money they have in the bank?

  11. So who drives the fuel guzzling Ford Excursion? And why? Seems like this is about the last vehicle the City of Charlottesville would have ever considered buying. Our tax money at work!

  12. I’m still in the dark. Would the Mayor or Mayor-to-be please weigh in with an explanation? This thing feels like the way UVA locked out the Pep Band so that they could form the Marching Band.

  13. I’m not sure what the exact make/model is. I’ll take “dink’s” word for it that it’s an Escape. I could just never could get past looking at that satellite dish. I wonder who he dials up on that? E.T.? I bet the Fire Chief of New York City doesn’t even have one of those. But here in the cosmopolitan town of C’ville the mindset is always…”nothing but the best”.

    P.S.- Actually, for a fire/rescue person, I guess driving a vehicle called “Escape” is apropos.

  14. I’d really like to hear Dave Norris’ explanation for his vote on this. Obviously, Taliaferro was going to vote for this, Hamilton is a lame duck, and Brown seems to vote with the consensus, but Norris seems to be a pretty thoughtful guy who takes his role on Council seriously. Also, he posts here on occasion.

    So, how about it, Dave? What possible justification could there be to add an expensive, redundant service that adds several permanent positions to the city payroll? As many have pointed out, the city’s population hasn’t grown in decades, so why are we adding employees? Especially with the real estate slowdown, the city is going to have to tighten its belt in the very short term.

  15. I’m surprised by the backlash here. CARS is “proud” of being volunteer. I don’t see why, what really matters is patient care, not how warm and fuzzy they feel about being a charity.

    Its not about training, its about experience. Someone pulling a 12 hour shift once a week and spending the rest of their time as a student at UVA or working another job simply doesn’t have the level of experience of a full time paramedic.

    Would you let a surgeon work on you who was a volunteer one day a week who had his/her thoughts somewhere else (school, office work, etc.) the rest of the week? Of course not. So why is life-and-death pre-hospital medical care any different?

    I think this stems from the myth that EMS is just a taxi ride to the hospital. These people are real medical providers and your life is literally in their hands. And you WANT them to be a part time volunteer? WHY?

    Cville BLEEDS paramedics. The only job they can get is at the hospital working as a tech, and none of them want that job. So they move away to a city that will actually value them and pay them for their service. This causes a loss of mind-share that we really cant afford to loose.

    For those who asked: In 2006 CARS total revenue was $794,692.00

  16. No Surpise, the big red fire vehicle I am speaking of is a very very large SUV, Ford Excursion. The largest ever made. Much larger than a Suburban. And it has a satellite dish on it. And it’s not by any means a Hybrid. It’s a fuel guzzler.

  17. I think CARS should cut the city of Charlottesville off and cease service with the effective beginning of the City’s Ambulance program. The City has absolutely no right to expect CARS to augment a “City Funded” parallel service for free. Especially if the City of Charlottesville finds CARS so lacking.

  18. Interesting comments by Anonymous. Except that he/she seems to ignore the fact that there is a finite amount of resources that can be dedicated to health care and public safety. Yes, it would be nice to have a paramedic on every street corner – but surely we could spend a million dollars elsewhere actually saving or helping more lives.

    And the comments about CARS volunteers not having the same level of experience as a career medic – I’d bet your average CARS volunteer runs more EMS calls in a single shift than a medic in most of our local paid EMS services does in an entire week. CARS runs 13,000 calls a year – how many calls does paid a paid medic in the outlying counties run?

    Throughout this entire ordeal, nobody has once questioned the quality of care that CARS provides. This came about due to sluggish response times perceived by the fire department. Yet the city’s own task force shows that CARS exceeds the goal of a 9 minute response over 90% of the time.

    CFD on the other hand can’t seem to meet its BLS response time goal of a 5 minute response over 90% of the time. What makes people think CFD can do a better job at EMS if it can’t seem to handle the first response job it has now? Why isn’t city council raising hell that its paid service isn’t meeting performance standards?

  19. On Charlottesville Tomorrow’s website ( it states that the County is now engaging in five-year financial planning to correlate its anticipated revenues and expenditures to its strategic plan. By doing so, the county staff has concluded “Funding for new full-time employees to staff County ambulances has also been removed.” I guess the City plans to step into the void at City tax payers’ expense. It’s funny that the County can’t afford new EMS staff but the much smaller city can. Or can it? Maybe it’s Mr. O’Connell’s way of giving back the County its Revenue Sharing funds as with the case of the City’s new Fonatine area fire station will by providing fire service to southern Albemarle’s urban area.

  20. Anonymous coward because CARS knows me, CARS may know who you are, but you evidently do not know that much about CARS and the level of expertise and depth of experience it has had for over 40 years. It has provided award-winning service during that time and is envied by many other localties with “paid, professional” medics.
    If you did pre-judge according to a lot of perceptions and stereotypes of their volunteers, you would know that they have an on-going and extensively broad training that is embraced by the gusto that is usually found only in dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers, unlike the energy of burned-out, jaded “professionals” who will always complain that they are unappreciated, underpaid, understaffed and underbenfitted. I know that you don’t mean to denigrate CARS, but you could learn a lot more about the reality of CARS if you would spend some time riding with the volunteers on real calls. Your mind would be blown.

  21. Oops. Just read on Charlottesville Tomorrow’s site ” County will also save about $600,000 a year when a contract with the City of Charlottesville to provide fire service is allowed to lapse.” Doesn’t seem the City will be paid for helping the County provide fire protection for Eagle’s Lankding. So… if the County will stop paying the City for protection, why is the City expanding its fire department? Because it can.

  22. CARS is the busiest volunteer rescue squad in the country according to Firehouse magazine, as quoted in the Cavalier Daily.

    According to the Charlottesville tomorrow weblog, the city has not yet decided how to accomplish “revenue recovery billing.” Are you kidding me? If they stuck by CARS, there would be no revenue to recover and no need to bill the poorest people in Charlottesville when they have a health emergency.

  23. Thanks, Cville Eye.
    According to the Charlottesville Tomorrow Weblog, Werner stated that residents will be billed under a “compassionate” system that would waive or reduce cost.

    How will it be determined that people will get their bill waived or reduced? You can’t just declare poverty on the spot and the city will waive your bill. More likely: residents who can’t pay for ambulance service will need to fill out complicated forms proving their low income status–how practical with a population that is largely functionally illiterate and/or does not speak English. Furthermore, someone will need to process this paperwork, thus someone else is added to the city payroll. Did anyone on City Council give this any thought at all?

  24. So the city gives $600,000 to Fire when they can only get their engines to the call in 54% of the time. Heck of a reward for a pitiful performance that any locality anywhere else would chastise, fire the administration, and restructure the whole department to improve mandated times. Oh, and by the way, tell those new medics to come on down, but look for housing somewhere else, they can’t afford to live in Charlottesville! The city council cares more about giving Julian and Charles their duplicate ambulance service than the housing needs of its citizens. That is downright shameful.

  25. I guess they will determine your payment exemption the same as they do some other exemptions: if you live in public or subsidized housing, or if you receive services from Social Services, or if you receive real estate tax reduction, rental subsidies or heating assistance or your children receive free or reduced lunch, then you don’t pay. If you received earned income credit on last year’s federal tax return then you are exempt. If you’re not a city resident such as a tourist it will be written off a bad debt. I imagine city workers and school personnel will be exempt also. Maybe if you are collecting unemployment you can get a deferment. If you are a city retiree or his spouse then you will be exempt. Perhaps, if you have UVA ID, you will be exempt at sometime down the road. Oh, and if you are incarcerated or a ward of the city or state then you will be exempt. Otherwise, you do unless you go in and apply for an exemption. If you are a property owner they can put it in you tax bill or utility bill. These are all possibilities that I conjecture. Of course they will hire someone to verify all of this as Mr. O’Connell has recommended that a new housing administrator be hired to manage the current housing program staff and the additional $1.75M in the CAHIP fund. That way waste can be monitored.

  26. I don’t see why Mr. Norris and his crowd couldn’t come up with the money to build low income affordable housing for the new EMT’s on what remains of McIntire Park after the YMCA takes their lion’s share of the park.
    Council has really made some bone head decisions recently, but I guess this is what you get when you have one party rule. Lord help us.

  27. It’s necessary to add the bits and pieces that have appeared in the press including this latest article . Mr. O’Connell’s and Mr. Taliaferro’s real plan is becoming clearer. The EMS service and new fire station is primarily to provide service to UVA at the City’s tax payers’ expense (UVA doesn’t want to contribute financially). The idea is to build a new $9.5M fire station and add million-dollar EMS service with two brand new ambulances (SO THAT’S why the City isn’t using any of the ambulances owned by CARS) with UVA providing the land, most likely in its Fontaine Research Park. The response time issue has already been declared not a problem by the Mayor’s own committee. So this must be the reason.
    Mr. Hendricks stepped into a fat, high-salaried job at UVA when he retired from the City Manager’s job. I wonder if that’s going to become standard practice for ex-City Managers.

  28. UVA has its own EMS service–two, in fact, Pegasus, and what used to be called Medic 5, but what is now called the Emergency Transport Team, I believe. They also have their own event team that handles medical emergencies at UVA events like football games. What on earth do they need with a city-funded EMS service?

  29. It doesn’t sound like those services are 24/7 general-purpose EMS services. If, they’ll take anything that they don’t have to pay for.Another question is what does the city’s taxpayers get out of it? Apparently, CARS isn’t getting anything out of it.I do know that I’m going to keep an eye on our up and coming retirees.

  30. Patience, you are right. My neighbor works at UVA and she says that Medic 5 runs 911 calls for all of the buildings at and around the hospital and for a lot of the clinics to. So they are already a EMS system that runs 911 calls. It has an agreement with CARS to answer calls if they are asked to that are not around UVA. That group that handles EMS at the new arena also works with CARS at stuff like the basketball games.
    Most interesting though is what she heard the city asked for
    They asked UVA how much it would cost to provide a UVA ambulance to run 911 calls in the city. When the fire department found out they started changing all their money numbers and the number of people they was going to hire to make their cost look less than it was before. I think the city just wants an ambulance. It is going to be like the Tranist Station. Looks good but don’t really help the people in the city.

  31. The money for this boondoogle would have been better spent raising salaries of Fire and Police. Hardly any of them live in the City. Werner is a political hack. Sounds to me like empire building, or maybe empire maintaining, since the County FD will soon eclipse them in salaries and equipment much like the County PD is to CPD. The City is in freefall, they just don’t know it yet.

  32. “I know that you don’t mean to denigrate CARS, but you could learn a lot more about the reality of CARS if you would spend some time riding with the volunteers on real calls. Your mind would be blown.”

    How do you think CARS knows me? Are you that stupid? Take a wild guess as to what my affiliation with CARS is. Hint, I’m not a patient.

    “And the comments about CARS volunteers not having the same level of experience as a career medic – I’d bet your average CARS volunteer runs more EMS calls in a single shift than a medic in most of our local paid EMS services does in an entire week.”

    You’d bet wrong. 13,000 calls a year… thats 250 calls a week. There were 188 active members in 2005. Since every call has 2 members on scene, on average any given member runs 2.65 calls a week. Trust me, there is a lot of sitting on your ass involved.

    The thing is, its not evenly distributed. In 2005 there were 21 members who ran LESS THAN TEN CALLS THE ENTIRE YEAR. The bottom 10 members ran 1 or 2 calls in the entire year, and the top 10 members ran more than 300 to 500 calls that year. Ironically, several people with those “less than 10 calls” ratings are actually some of the most experienced medics. Why are their call numbers low? Because they are full time paramedics with paid services and only volunteer with CARS occasionally.

    I’m not going to do a full statistical analysis, but I will say that the member who was right in the middle of the rankings (94th place out of 188) ran 110 calls that year. Thats 1.92 calls a week. Thats not much from the 2.65 figure if everything was evenly distributed, and its understandably skewed by the few people who work almost every day and push 300+ calls.

    Now, if the busiest members ran 300 to 500 calls a year (the busiest member that year ran 520, or 10 calls a week) then we could reasonably consider them “full time” and representative of a full time paid service. So if a full time medic runs 6-10 calls a week, and a part timer runs between zero and 2 calls a week, well… you lose the bet. Pay up.

  33. You say “Trust me.” Don’t be ridiculous. It’s hard enough to trust Mr. Werner, why would anyone trust someone named “Anonymous coward because CARS knows me?” This sow’s ear will never change into a silk purse, and don’t trust me on that! Just use common sense.

  34. Now, about Mr. O’Connell’s $400 fee per call. How many people feel this new, improved service is worth that amount of money? What do you think ” Anonymous…CARS?”

  35. I asked you to trust me that there is a lot of sitting around involved. Its a figure of speech. I really don’t care if you trust me or not. Your “common sense” doesn’t change the reality.

    You don’t trust me because you don’t know my name? Whats your name “cville eye”? I doubt thats on your birth certificate. Why should we trust you?

    Do you know how much a med-flight costs? It makes $400 look like a bargain. Do you expect CARS to buy and operate a helicopter too?

    If you’re interested in how paid ambulance services work you should take a look at other county’s systems in Virginia. Its usually set up so that people without insurance pay nothing, people with insurance also pay nothing. Everybody wins. Google “ambulance fee” and you’ll find out all you want to know. Somebody pays no matter what. Be it from individual donors (ala CARS), the taxpayers, patients themselves, or insurance companies. There is no free lunch, who do you think should pay?

    I don’t see how people readily accept that a hospital will bill them, but for some reason pre-hospital care (as long as its ground transport only) should be free for everyone? How does that make any sense?

  36. I never asked you to trust me. What are you supposed to be trusting me for?
    Where did “helicopter” come from? I’ll bet you people think that one day Charlottesville is going to have a state-of-the-art fire and EMS service like they have on the TV shows so that you can sit around in the station all day doing mostly nothing. Boys, stop suffering from delusions of grandeur and go get some gadgets from Best Buy to amuse yourselves. A lot of wonderful people assoicated with CARS have been hurt enough. And you don’t have to trust me in that either.

  37. Anonymous – I think your math is a bit off on your statistical analysis. Using the city’s presumed accurate numbers, CARS averages 3 ambulances a shift. At 13,000 calls per year, this is about 36 calls per day. Each 12 hour shift then runs 18 calls – distributed evenly among 3 ambulances pershift means that each unit runs at least 6 calls per shift – which would be how many your average paid full time medic does in a full working week. YOU pay up.

  38. Yes, bleh, another lie. The sad thing is we seem to have a Council that tries to accommodate them. Our Planning Commission would ask tougher questions, then send them scurrying. When did a new fire and rescue station become a priority? When Mr. Taliaferro was elected to Council. Was it a foundation of his campaign?

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