From the first moment of the public meeting on Monday, March 13, the Kings Point Board of Trustees sought to reassure the audience of more than 50 people that there is no plan under consideration to change the ambulance service in the village from Vigilant Fire Company. Currently, the Village of Kings Point uses Vigilant for ambulance calls only. It uses a separate volunteer fire company, Alert, to respond to fires.
First, Mayor Michael C. Kalnick made a statement regarding the village’s unequivocal intention to continue with Vigilant. He acknowledged that he attended an informational meeting, along with the other village mayors, with the Northwell Health System three months ago. Next, a statement was made by Joshua Forst, chief of Vigilant, followed by a lengthy open dialogue for nearly one hour. Dozens of questions were asked of the board by concerned residents and Vigilant representatives. All questions were answered.
Kalnick and Forst mutually acknowledged their long-standing relationship in the community.
“I have known Josh for over 30 years, since he was a little boy,” said Kalnick.
“I know that you are a man of your word, but actions speak louder than words,” Forst responded. “It is nice that we have a long relationship, but Vigilant’s letters have gone unanswered. We need for you to show that you care.”
Kalnick replied, “Of course we care. Our number one priority is the health and safety of our residents. The issue is that Kings Point, Saddle Rock and Great Neck are paying a disproportionate share of ambulance services for the peninsula. Kings Point is subsidizing the other villages. We aren’t using Vigilant for fire service. There is also the issue of reimbursement and double-dipping. We have a responsibility to try to save money for the village. The money we save can be used to improve ambulance services for our residents.”
Forst acknowledged that there was an issue with billing and insurance reimbursement. He also raised concerns about insurance coverage in future years, as well as big invoices for ambulance service being shifted to residents by Northwell. “If those bills aren’t paid, they go into collection.”
Kalnick said it was his understanding, “for discussion purposes only,” that Northwell would not seek collection from residents. It would merely seek reimbursement from insurance. Any shortfall would be paid by the village, not the residents. This would represent a “win-win” for everyone concerned. Kalnick also mentioned the medical advantages of using Northwell, including the fact that Northwell has paramedics on every ambulance, which are “80 percent of an emergency room.”
Forst replied that Vigilant also has trained paramedics and CPR equipment. Vigilant saves costs for the village because it does not utilize police officers on calls. Furthermore, Vigilant sends a team of four volunteers, unlike Nassau County which sends only two EMTs.
Addressing Chief Forst, Trustee Sheldon Kwiat said, “Our entire community supports what you do. We have no issue with Vigilant and we aren’t changing it. We have a political problem with the other villages regarding the apportionment of costs.”
Thereafter, there was a discussion regarding the costs of Vigilant’s ambulance service. A query was made regarding how the costs could be apportioned more fairly.
“The cost should be based on the number of calls per village,” said Kalnick. “Great Neck Plaza has senior housing and many more residents, and over 650 calls per year. By contrast, Kings Point has fewer residents and only 246 calls per year.”
Trustee Kwiat added, “Kings Point only has 12 percent of the total calls for the peninsula, yet pays over 25 percent of the cost for Vigilant’s ambulance service. We pay $216,000 for 246 calls. That comes out to $848 per call that the residents of Kings Point are paying.”
Trustee Ron Horowitz stated, “We are all volunteers here; we all seek to serve our community. But if Vigilant can get another source of funding that can go to training or other needs, why not do it? We have no intention of making a change from Vigilant. We have no intention to shift any costs to the residents of Kings Point.”
David Weiss, Vigilant chairman of the board, spoke at some length regarding Vigilant being the only fire company in the area without pension benefits for its volunteers.
Mayor Kalnick repeatedly expressed his willingness to cooperate with the creation of an appropriate pension plan within legal guidelines. “We are with you. We have the same arrangement with Alert.”
According to Village Attorney Steven Limmer, who drafted a five-page opinion letter on the subject, a change in legislation would be required in order to effectuate the pension plan.
Weiss responded that Vigilant’s attorney has a different legal opinion. After the discussion, there was a consensus among the board and the Vigilant representatives that better communication and cooperation would move the pension issue forward. If Vigilant’s ambulance company was separated from the fire company, the pension plan could become a reality. Both sides agreed that this should happen.
“Thank you for being so transparent,” Simon Zar, a Vigilant board member, said to the Kings Point board. “We want to be assured of the partnership with you. We want to move forward.”
Mayor Kalnick responded, “We will cooperate with you. There has been a gap in communication.”
Trustee Hooshang Nematzadeh then inquired of Zar, “Are you Mashadi? I am glad to see that our [Mashadi] community does its share.”
More than a dozen young Vigilant volunteers were present at the meeting to show their support, including volunteers from the Iranian community, both Tehrani and Mashadi.
One of the volunteers present to show support for Vigilant was Levi Monahemi, 18, a high school senior and resident of Kings Point, who has been a volunteer with Vigilant for eight months and has gone on more than 50 emergency calls during that period. He attends EMT school twice a week for three hours each night.
“We are proud of what you are doing at Vigilant,” said Trustee David Harounian. “We are not going to switch from Vigilant. We are trying to be transparent. We only went to the meeting with Northwell to learn information. We have to answer to our residents. They are concerned about their taxes. If one thing upsets our residents, we hear about it.”
Mayor Kalnick agreed with Trustee Harounian and added, “There will be no increase in taxes at all in Kings Point for the coming tax year.”
Great Neck resident Leon Korobow presented a statement saying, “Thank you for letting us express our views. You have made it clear that you are not changing the ambulance service, but there is anxiety in the community.”
Mayor Kalnick responded to Korobow, “You have created the anxiety by spreading misinformation.”
Korobow replied, “There were over 150 people at the Village of Great Neck meeting last week. I did not create that. Your position in Kings Point [regarding Vigilant] has been misrepresented by the other mayors.”
Mayor Kalnick added, “The Northwell meeting may have been a pitch, but it was informative. That’s all.”
Zar again brought up the other mayors on the Great Neck peninsula. “You are being grouped together with the mayors of Saddle Rock and Great Neck. They are speaking for you, and what they have been saying is different from what you are saying. They have made it sound as if they might switch from Vigilant and that Kings Point might, too.”
Several Kings Point residents were at the meeting to show their support for Vigilant, including Dalia Naim and her sister Nazila Rastegar. Naim and Rastegar’s 92-year-old father, a resident of Great Neck Plaza, suffered a massive heart attack in January 2017. The Vigilant ambulance arrived less than five minutes later to give him medical treatment. Unbeknownst to him, his own granddaughter, Ella Rastegar, 17, was one of the volunteers who arrived to help him on the Vigilant ambulance. The entire family was shocked by the coincidence. Thanks to the excellent medical care he received, their father had a full recovery.