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Dan Hust | Democrat

SUE RIDLEY, A longtime Jeffersonville corps member, speaks about the difficulty in getting training and keeping volunteer recruits.

EMS and County working together

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — March 21, 2008 — Legislator Leni Binder, chair of the Legislature’s Public Safety Committee, said the goal Wednesday night was “to stop the infighting.”
But very little infighting occurred amongst the 30 people gathered inside the Government Center in Monticello, representing at least half of the county’s volunteer and paid ambulance corps.
Most of the discussion wasn’t even focused on the infighting; instead, the small crowd talked about the challenges facing local corps and how to surmount them.
“It’s not about our competition,” remarked Hurleyville EMS volunteer Barbara Galanter. “It’s about our survival.”
The problems, according to a variety of speakers from around the county: high operating costs, intense training requirements, strict state rules, an unresponsive County Legislature, enormous coverage areas, poor communication between corps, and the all-important lack of new recruits.
Most acknowledged that resolving items like state training and response requirements would continue to be problematic (i.e., the state demands that a certified EMT be on every call, and most local corps don’t have nearly enough to cover all calls).
Binder, however, did promise that she’d lobby at the state level for shared concerns over cost- and time-prohibitive state mandates.
But for some of the other issues, attendees agreed that both corps members and county officials needed to step up to the plate.
“This comes down to two things,” proffered James Vooght, a 911 Center dispatcher and longtime volunteer in a variety of corps. “People need to take responsibility for themselves, their squads and their jobs… and they need to put their personal feelings aside.”
Several people suggested cooperative training and a single oversight body (rather than the corps captains’ meetings, Legislature-created EMS Advisory Board and state-mandated EMS Council that exist now) be enacted.
But legislators were also faulted for not responding to concerns until the complaints became unbearable, for appointing an EMS coordinator without much input from the EMS community, for rejecting proposed bylaws without clearly stating why, and for simply not communicating.
“We want to be heard,” explained Albee Bockman, owner of MobileMedic, the area’s commercial ambulance service.
Though Legislator Elwin “Woody” Wood – a Roscoe and Livingston Manor EMS volunteer – pointed out that corps around the county struggle with members who only want to respond to the intense, exciting accident scenes rather than general illness calls, he did admit that as a legislator, “obviously we have dropped the ball, too.”
And the two sides must effectively join forces, said those gathered.
“I’m envious of the Fire Advisory Board and their coordinator,” said John Crotty, president of the Jeffersonville corps, which recently resigned in frustration from the EMS Advisory Board. “They work together.”
“Our hands are tied until you give us a defined role,” begged Lumberland corps member and EMS Council President Ann Steimle of legislators, arguing that the EMS Advisory Board “has produced nothing.”
Galanter had the most wide-ranging solution, urging corps to consider consolidation into one entity with multiple satellite stations.
“We would be able to move equipment around wherever it’s needed,” she said. “…The county could employ our young people as EMTs. If volunteers wanted to help out, they could do it with the fire companies as first responders.”
Binder was skeptical of that idea, but she, Wood, Legislator Frank Armstrong, Public Safety Commissioner Dick Martinkovic and County Manager David Fanslau promised they would attempt to clarify the county’s role, communicate more clearly and effectively, and secure financial aid to help corps purchase equipment and supplies.
In the meantime, said Barry Cooperstein of the Town of Liberty Volunteer Ambulance Corps, residents should not worry about getting service when they need it most.
“The purpose of our organization is to serve the people,” he said. “…We’re willing to go anywhere we need to go… That’s our obligation.”

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