Where does BFPD EMS Services Stand Today
By Member Jim Keener
October 27, 2022

Over the past few years, many Illinois cities and Fire Districts have been forced to increase their ambulance fees to maintain stable budgets.

Although the Bourbonnais Fire Protection District (BFPD) has not seen significant increases to ambulance service fees in several years, the revenue from ambulance calls is meant to offset the total cost of fire-rescue and emergency medical services. Some of this revenue is set aside to build a small reserve for future capital purchases.

Over the last several decades, some local fire agencies turned over emergency medical services (EMS) services to service providers. The difficulty for departments to recruit and retain professional staff and the financial stress to great a burden, agencies are losing the immediate local response and residents are now waiting for ambulances to come from longer distances.

BFPD has provided emergency medical service since the late 1940’s. “The BFPD doesn't make money on an ambulance service, but it obviously is very needed here in the Village of Bourbonnais and un-incorporated Bourbonnais Township. Emergency response call volume is expected to exceed 4,300 calls this year. Nearly 74% of those calls are EMS-related and will require EMS personnel to provide treatment and transportation to a healthcare facility. Daily, a crew of 8 personnel are on duty covering 36 square miles for population of nearly 34,000 people. To say we are busy is an understatement.”

The BFPD has been operating in-house, staffed ambulances and a combination of paramedics and EMT staff from its fire station since the 1980’s. Continuous increasing call volume has required the BFPD to increase the number of additional personnel to meet these increase call volumes. The ability to provide the highest level of care is the responsibility not only of the Fire District, but the community as well.

The Bourbonnais Fire Protection District has mutual aid agreements with every fire and ambulance department in Kankakee County. While this may seem like the cure all for our needs, we must keep in mind that other communities have their own responsibility to provide services to their citizens too. This can lead to increases in response times the fact there are some communities lacking personnel making them reluctant to send their only resources out of town to other communities.

Be assured, BFPD has taken steps to keep the financial burden of ambulance services off of our patients. In 2019, the Fire District entered into an intergovernmental agreement with the state of Illinois to participate in the Ground Emergency Medical Transport program, which provides a federal funding opportunity to supplement emergency medical transportation expenses for Medicaid patients.

The Fire District approved an ordinance amendment that raised ambulance fees for all EMS calls up to $1,800 and $30.00 per mile for transports to help cover our costs.

While this might seem expensive to the residents of BFPD, there are advantages. One of those advantages is that a resident who pays taxes to the Fire District will not be “balanced billed” for services. What this means is that the Fire District works with the resident’s insurance company for payment of services. Once the Fire District receives the final payment from the patient’s insurance, the remaining unpaid balances are forgiven and written off by the Fire District. That means the Fire District will not pursue a resident for the remaining balance. "We really kind of laid the burden on the health insurance companies to cover the cost of the ambulance bill itself and not the person actually receiving the services."

Of course, the District bills those individuals who don’t pay taxes to the Fire District who use EMS services of the Fire District. Think car accident with injuries as an example. If they are not a resident of our district, they are billed for the entire amount of our services. Once the insurance obligations are met, the Fire District will bill the individual for the remaining balance.

Providing EMS services is a complicated process. Dealing with insurance companies makes it even more complicated. There are only so many things the BFPD can do, especially when you’re dealing with private insurance, Medicare. Medicaid, and those individuals who have no insurance.

Much like the residents of the BFPD, we are impacted by the same increases in overall costs to support operations.

When it comes to ambulances, the Fire District is vigilant in keeping them in good working order. As far as a useful life for an ambulance, we don’t just look at mileage, but also the number of hours it was used. Interestingly, hours used can equate to millions of miles. On average, the BFPD gets 10 to 12 years out of each ambulance. We even have an ambulance that is 15 years old and still in-service.

Bourbonnais Fire Protection District strives to be a good steward of the taxpayer’s money. Anyone having questions or wanting more information, please don’t hesitate to stop by or give us a call.