Voluntary EMS subscription program sees success, saves station

Murrieta Fire Department’s EMS Subscription program is exceeding expectations according to department analysts. Currently, there are 8,500 subscribers to the program, far exceeding the initial projected numbers for first year enrollment. The program was designed to help offset declining tax revenues that fund the

department.

The one-year-old EMS Subscription Program began in January 2013 when it became apparent that, despite cuts to the department’s administration, declining tax rolls would not be enough to sustain the department. Without the program, the city would have been forced to close one of its five fire stations. The goal of the program is to maintain the department’s current level of service in the community.

“The Murrieta Fire Department is a fire district and we are a subsidiary of the city of Murrieta. We don’t receive any general fund money like the police department,” said Diana Lozano, a management analyst with Murrieta Fire Department. “We receive a proportionate share of taxes but only toward fire suppression. None of it was ever allocated towards EMS.”

Lozano said when home values began to drop in the area, the serious decline in tax revenue became a real issue for the department who receives significantly more EMS calls than fire calls on a daily basis.

“It really did drop quite a bit,” she said. “Although we were never getting revenue for EMS, we were just making it work based on revenue from other programs and just balancing our budget. But when you are a 100 percent revenue department, we are not an enterprise department like a water district, you have to depend on the revenues you get each year and that is hard to do with fire service. That’s one of the reasons we implemented the program.”

MFD has attempted to make the program financially feasible for all citizens, including a reduction in fees for low income families and the elderly who depend on them for everything from changing batteries in smoke detectors to checking medications.

“There are a tremendous amount of incline services that this department provides,” said Lozano. “It’s worked out well. We currently have about 8,500 subscribers and that has well exceeded what we thought. It’s a much higher ratio than what some of our fellow fire departments are getting here in Southern California.”

Cost of the program is $48 a year per household or business. Low income families and retirees pay half the cost to participate. Once the annual fee is paid, subscribers can call for an ambulance as often as they need to without worrying about the cost.

“It’s much more affordable than the $350 they would be billed every time EMS responds to a call. We can go out and do these other types of services and not charge for it,” said Lozano. “We really try to encourage people to please enroll.”

Because of the program’s success, the department is no longer considering shutting down one of the city’s five stations.

“We’ve tightened up our budget; we are trying to be as careful as possible,” said Lozano noting that some high risk budget items such as gear to keep firefighters safe are unavoidable.

While things have improved overall as far as budgets are concerned, the department continues to dip into reserves to make ends meet but not to the extent they once were, according to Lozano.

“We are really seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and I am really happy about that,” said Lozano. “We are just going to continue to do what we can to maintain and improve our services. It’s getting better and that is what we want to see, we want to see progress.”

Murrieta residents wishing to enroll in Murrieta Fire Department’s EMS Subscription program can call Lozano at (951) 461-6164 or visit the City of Murrieta website at www.murrieta.org and click on Services.

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