‘I love helping people. I love making a difference in somebody’s life.’
Todd Zinkievich, 45, has led the Medina Fire Department since 2003. The department replaced Rural Metro as the primary ambulance provider in western Orleans County in July 2007.
When Zinkievich pitched the plan to the Village Board in 2007, he anticipated running anywhere from 1,500 to 1,700 calls. Immediately, the department exceeded that, pushing 1,800 to 1,900 calls in its first year.
In 2012, the Medina Fire Department handled 2,209 ambulance calls and 311 fire calls for 2,520 total, the most ever for the department.
The department has 13 paid full-time staff, plus about 15 to 18 callmen, and other volunteers.
Zinkievich was interviewed March 11 at the fire hall.
Question: Why do the ambulance numbers keep going up? Are people getting older?
Answer: Yes. We have an aging population. We also have the contract with Medina hospital, transferring their patients from their facility to a higher level of care. Those calls tend to increase roughly the same percentage each year.
Question: So, in terms of the future, this is fairly solid, assuming the reimbursements don’t drop? Maybe that’s the only wild card?
Answer: That would be the wild card in our business. It’s completely beyond our control when the federal government sets the guidelines for Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements. They always tend to go up, too, based on the rate of inflation. But they could make an about-face and bring them down on us.
Question: Could you talk about the call men, how you determine their pay and their role in the department?
Answer: We have about 15 to 18 call firefighters, which are basically volunteers. They get paid a small stipend. It used to be $100 a year flat rate. Now we have a $200-a-year flat rate, and they can make up to $600 with incentives, which includes call response and training. We encourage them to do duty time with us. They come dressed just like us. You can’t tell us apart. They do time with us. They are very valuable assets to us. We’re always looking for good active callmen.
Question: What is the big benefit of having a paid crew?
Answer: In this day and age volunteerism is dwindling. Back when I joined back in the ’80s, you tended to have families where the mother stayed at home and took care of the kids. The father worked and had time in the evening to be able to volunteer at his local fire department. Now you’re finding more two-income families where mom has to work out of the home. They may work opposite shifts. So when the mom is gone, the dad has to watch the kids. He doesn’t have that time to commit. It’s industry-wide. We see it all over.
The benefit of having a paid staff is knowing you will have somebody to drive that fire truck or ambulance and help you in your time of need – not that it doesn’t happen with other departments. The calls are still getting answered.
Question: What is the big challenge in running a modern fire department in Medina?
Answer: The big challenge is manpower. We are right now stretched to the max. I would love to be able to have a staff meeting and tell the guys we’re going to hire four more guys. But I’m realistic about it. In this day and age adding to your local government is not a popular option.
Question: Do you have 24-hour coverage with the paid staff?
Answer: Yes we do. During the day we have a minimum of three and a maximum of five. At night, from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., we go down to two guys.
Question: Is that tricky to schedule with 13 people?
Answer: Yes it is. Scheduling is the absolute hardest part of this job, making sure sufficient manpower available. We rely heavily on our callmen and our off-duty guys. Sometimes they’re not home long and then come in and jump right back on the ambulance. We have to have a commitment from them, knowing it’s not a 12-hour-a-day job. It’s 24-7.
Question: They do 12-hour shifts?
Answer: Yes they do. They work four 12-hour days and then they get four days off. There are times when we have two or three ambulances on the road and we’re spread thin.
Question: Why do you think you’ve been able to keep the ambulance service profitable? I know other departments, including Batavia, got out of that business because they were losing money.
Answer: Our guys do a lot extra when they do ambulance calls. They get signatures and paperwork that a lot of other agencies don’t get. We forward it right away to our billing company (MedEx in Le Roy) and they can act on that bill right away. That helps increase our collection rate.
Question: What do you like about this job?
Answer: Everything. I love helping people. I love making a difference in somebody’s life. Generally when we’re called somebody is in trouble. They’re either hurt or something is on fire. It’s up to us to get there, mitigate it and offer whatever assistance we can.
Question: You go out on calls?
Answer: Yes. Because we’re such a small department I have to run on a lot of the calls. I do, too, because I’ve always been a firm believer that we should spread the workload amongst all of our employees. When you take one person, myself, out of that equation of 13, you’re taking 7.3 percent of your workforce away from it. These guys are working hard and they’re working hard for us, so I’m going to work hard alongside them. I go on my fair amount of ambulance calls. I may be driving the ambulance or in back as a medic.
Question: You have to keep up with all the training?
Answer: Yes. I’m an intermediate EMT. All of our career guys are required to be at least intermediate EMTs. We encourage them to increase their training up to the paramedic level. It takes 18 months. It’s a big commitment to get someone trained to that level.