© 2013 Berlin Area Ambulance Assoc.


Are you paid or volunteer?


Berlin Area Ambulance Association is a paid service, thus ensuring a timely response when an emergency call is received.  Volunteer EMS services do still exist and function successfully in some communities, but are progressively being phased out in favor of full-time paid services due to the increasing call loads that put added stress on the dwindling volunteer base.


Are you always staffed?


The ambulance service strives to maintain one staffed ALS crew (Paramedic and EMT) 24/7, 365 days a year.  Crew members typically work shifts ranging from 8 to 24 hours in length.  Living quarters at the station accommodate the need for crew members to eat, sleep, complete paperwork, and maintain the ambulances and equipment during their shift.


How many people work for the ambulance?


Berlin Area Ambulance currently employs 12 active part-time EMTs and 3 active part-time Paramedics.  The service also has 2 full-time Paramedics and a full-time manager.


How many people are at the station?


Berlin Area Ambulance has a minimum of two people scheduled on duty at any given time.  Crews are typically made up of one EMT and one Paramedic.  Management staff may also be present at the station during the week to oversee day to day operations and handle administrative functions.  When the scheduled crew is busy and a second call comes in, crew members respond from home on a voluntary basis to staff the second ambulance.  


What is the difference between an EMT and Paramedic?


The terms EMT and Paramedic are often interchanged, but in fact there is a significant difference.  The biggest difference between the two is the amount of training required to obtain each particular certification.  EMTs are trained in Basic Life Support, which includes CPR, immobilization, and assisting patients with a few select medications.  Paramedics are trained in Advanced Life Support, which also includes cardiac monitoring, IV therapy, advanced airway control, and administration of several medications.


How do I become an EMT or Paramedic?


EMT classes are offered by different training agencies in and around Somerset County.  EMT class is now 180 hours in length and teaches basic life support skills.  EMT students also spend a shift in the hospital interacting with patients and may also do a ride-along with a local EMS service to observe other EMTs on the job.  


EMTs who have some experience in the field may choose to go on and become Paramedics.  Paramedic class is much more intense and is a year long program.  Conemaugh Hospital offers the nearest Paramedic program, which can also be taken in conjunction with other college classes to earn a degree in the field of Emergency Medical Services.  Paramedics spend several shifts in different departments in the hospital and serve a field internship with an EMS service to ensure mastery of the advanced life support skills required for certification.  


How many calls do you have a year?


Berlin Area Ambulance Service handles approximately 1200 calls for service each year.  Of these calls, nearly 75% are for emergencies and the remaining 25% are for scheduled non-emergency transports.


Do you always use lights and sirens?


The ambulances very rarely use lights and sirens.  Lights and sirens are mostly used when crews are responding to the scene of an emergency.  Not all responses require the use of lights and sirens, as the increased risk of using warning lights and sirens is not always worth the time saved getting to the scene.  Once the EMS crew is with the patient they typically will not use sirens to get to the hospital unless the patient’s condition is extremely critical.  If you see an ambulance with its lights and sirens on please pull to the right and come to a complete stop as soon as possible.  Lights and sirens are only used in true cases of emergency and should not be taken lightly or disregarded by other motorists.


Who governs the ambulance service?


The ambulance service is overseen by a board of directors who meet monthly to conduct administrative business.  The Southern Alleghenies Regional EMS Council oversees the licensing of the service and keeps track of provider certifications and continuing education records.  The service also is required to have a medical director, a licensed medical physician, who oversees the medical operations of the providers in the field.


How much does an ambulance cost?


The last brand new ambulance purchased by the service in 2010 cost nearly $160,000.  This cost does not include the medical equipment required for each ambulance as determined by the Pennsylvania Department of Health.  Each truck is equipped with a cardiac monitor costing $20,000, a power cot costing $12,000, and radio equipment costing $3,500.  When placed in service the value of the ambulance and medical equipment contained inside is worth well over $200,000.  The ambulances are usually replaced after 5 years of service due to high mileage and increasing maintenance costs.


How much does it cost to use the ambulance?


There are many factors that go into calculating an ambulance bill, such as the level of care provided, treatments rendered and distance traveled.  The base cost for an emergency ambulance transport begins around $600 and can increase to over $1000 depending on the situation.  


Why does it cost so much for an ambulance trip?


The annual operating cost for Berlin Area Ambulance is $310,000 per year.  Billing rates are determined by Medicare and are not set by the ambulance service.   Due to insurances not paying out the full billed amount and persons who are under or uninsured, the ambulance service receives an average of only 52% of the total amount billed for services in a year’s time.  Because of this poor reimbursement rate, the ambulance service helps to offset its’ operating costs through selling memberships and attempting to obtain public safety grants.


What is the benefit of having an ambulance membership?


When insurance companies are billed for ambulance transports they do not always cover 100% of the bill.  The remaining unpaid portion becomes the responsibility of the patient to pay out of their own pocket.  By purchasing an annual membership ($28 for an individual or $38 for a family), the ambulance service agrees to waive any remaining unpaid balance if you use the ambulance services and insurance doesn’t pay the full bill.  It is not uncommon for patients to be left with a remaining balance of a few hundred dollars or more, so the savings from purchasing a membership are easily realized the first time you use the ambulance.  If you are a member who does not have any insurance, you will still be billed for services rendered by the service, but at a much lesser rate.  Ambulance memberships are applicable to emergency transports only (calls dispatched through 911).  Non-emergency transports to doctors’ offices or interfacility (hospital to hospital) transports are not covered by your ambulance membership.