Monday, February 19, 2007

Ambulance chasers

I've been thinking about the hourly towing rates for non-emergency service, and its hard to come up with a real comparison from another industry, because what we do is so unique. But why not look at the Ambulance industry for some guidance at least? There are some similarities: a crew that operates very specialized, motorized equipment that is expensive to buy and maintain. The drivers need to have a license or certificate to do the job. The crews respond to differing levels of emergencies; from transporting stable patients with little medical needs all the way to Code 3, life saving response. Here is an image of an interesting document. Just click anywhere on it and it will come up in a bigger window. When you're done looking, just hit your back button to come back here. These are the maximum rates that a private ambulance company that is licensed by the county can charge the public.

You can see the entire thing for yourself by clicking here:

Wow, you're thinking....$868 bucks an hour! No wonder my Blue Cross is so high. Ah, but you didn't look carefully. That's $868 per call response, not per hour. Go to the link and read the entire 3 pages. In essence, this is the minimum charge to get underway on a code 3. There is a waiting time fee of $40/hr, and a standby time of $38/hr, (whoops!, thats $40 every fifteen minutes, which is an additional $160/hr. see comments below) plus an additional $65.75 per call for night rate, plus $14 per mile. Oh, did you want bandages with that ambulance? Add $21. Oxygen tanks? $50. per tank. The list goes on. Basic lifesupport is only $610 per call response, plus the extras. Think that an ambulance is more expensive than your towboat?

Have a look at this ad for the used ambulance pictured here. This rig has 38,000 miles on it, and is asking $57,500, "negotiable." This is a turbo diesel 2001 model. Described as in mint condition and fully loaded, I would expect that it still has years of life left in it. To see many more examples like this, go to AmbulanceTrader.
You're wondering what is the point of all this? The point is, if you are investing money in a specialized asset like an ambulance, or a custom towboat, what is your return? You can invest fifty grand in a used towboat, and earn about $200/hr, or you could buy a used ambulance and earn about $1000/hr. Ok, so maybe you only do 2 calls per day with the ambulance. But how many hours of marine towing would you have to do to make up the difference?

Now, before you go accusing me of comparing apples to lifejackets, look at this snip of a job listing I found just today on a popular job search engine:

This is for a qualified Emergency Med. Technician (EMT) for an ambulance crew in Los Angeles, where the above rate sheet is in effect. The applicant needs less than 1 year experience, and a High School diploma or GED, plus the EMT certification. I believe that getting an EMT is easier than getting a 100t Master's License. I know that an EMT doesn't have to prove 720 days to get certified. Wouldn't the salary range mentioned here be about the same as the average towboat captain? This EMT job inclues BlueCross, Dental and a uniform. Do you offer your captains full medical benefits? Why not?

I'm not suggesting that towboats start to charge $868/hour (plus $14/mile). But I think everyone should evaluate their hourly rate based on some kind of return on investment. When businessmen do that, they make comparisons to discover if the investment is a good one. From that perspective, a towboat is a terrible investment.