In an effort to quicken response times even before a paid first-responder program is expected to be launched in 2014, six East End ambulance companies are teaming up in a new way this summer by starting a daytime duty crew to respond to calls.
Volunteers with the East End Ambulance Coalition—made of companies from Amagansett, Bridgehampton, East Hampton, Montauk, Sag Harbor and Springs—launched the new system on Monday, July 1.
Here’s how it works: each day from Monday to Saturday, one of the companies serves as a duty crew from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays are excluded because typically there are more responders available that day.
For example, if Sag Harbor is the duty crew, and East Hampton gets an ambulance call, both the duty crew from Sag Harbor and East Hampton will get dispatched, explained Philip Cammann, who volunteers as a paramedic with the Bridgehampton Fire Department Ambulance and works by day as the Emergency Medical Services manager with Southampton Volunteer Ambulance.
The idea is that if East Hampton, in this case, cannot muster a crew in a timely fashion—if it is tied up at the hospital, among other reasons—then Sag Harbor will already be on its way to assist in a mutual-aid arrangement.
If, using the same example, East Hampton does muster a crew in time, Sag Harbor would return to service until the next call. Or, sometimes, East Hampton, for example, might be short a single EMT. In such a case, Sag Harbor could deliver that one EMT and go back into service.
In essence, it’s having an extra team available to respond.
Prior to the plan being put into effect, if the original ambulance company was tied up when a call came in, the company would have to scramble to get a crew together or rely upon mutual aid from a neighboring district.
“What this is doing is cutting the time frame down, because the second rig will already be on the road,” Mr. Cammann said. “We’re trying to improve upon a very good system.” He noted higher demands on ambulance companies, many of which are desperately seeking new volunteers, necessitates such a move.
“Some agencies are more involved in this than others, but all the agencies consider this a shared project,” he said. So far, just Bridgehampton, Sag Harbor and East Hampton are actively providing duty crews.
Montauk, for instance, started a paid-responder program for the summer and has its own daytime crew, he said, so they won’t serve as a daytime crew for the region, but the regional daytime crew will respond to Montauk under the plan.
Springs and Amagansett, meanwhile, have members interested in participating in the daytime crew, but are still working out in-house details, he said.
The daytime duty crew’s schedule is set for July. At month’s end, the coalition plans to meet to evaluate the program and put together an August schedule.
The duty crew plan serves as a stepping-stone to a separate, longer-term idea by the coalition—to hire a team of paid first responders. That is in the budgeting phase, Mr. Cammann said. A budget must be approved by all six companies. Suffolk County and New York State must sign off as well.
Part of the challenge for ambulance companies is that they often get tied up with non-emergency calls, Mr. Cammann said. At least 20 percent of calls, he estimated, are cases in which an ambulance was not really needed or was called in error, such as when someone drives by an accident and calls 911 without checking to see if there are injuries.
A mistaken belief by many is that they will get treated at the emergency room faster if they arrive by ambulance. Not so, Mr. Cammann said. Treatment is based on the severity of one’s illness or injury.
Unconsciousness, allergic reactions (particularly with trouble breathing), electrical shock, trauma, hypothermia, heart attack, severe, undiagnosed abdominal pain, hemorrhages, stroke and bad burns are among valid reasons for calling an ambulance, according to documents provided by Mr. Cammann. Broken fingers are not.
He urged those interested in volunteering to contact their local ambulance companies. EMTs and drivers are always needed.