Just one month after creating its first partially paid first-responder program, the East Hampton Village Board of Trustees on Friday made it clear that it is not yet ready to join a collaborative first-responder program involving both East Hampton and Southampton towns.
At its monthly meeting, the board heard a presentation by the East End Ambulance Coalition, which proposed creating a “dual response” EMS/first-responder program that would provide service to East Hampton Village, Springs, Amagansett, Bridgehampton, and Sag Harbor. The East End Responder Project, as it would be called, could provide better emergency medical services to East End residents, according to the coalition, by using a team of paid responders who would be sent immediately in the case of medical emergencies.
The project would operate as a nonprofit entity separate from existing ambulance companies. Employees would be paid to offer additional support to regular districts, some of which do not have paid first responders, in the event of an influx of 911 calls, said coalition member Philip Cammann in a phone interview.
The program would run much the way police are dispatched to emergencies. There would be six responder vehicles available—one for each district—but they would not be limited to responding to calls only in their respective district.
“When Bridgehampton had a call, the sector car in Bridgehampton would respond,” said Mr. Cammann of a hypothetical scenario. “And then when Bridgehampton had their second call, maybe the East Hampton car would come pick that up. Or if you had a really nasty incident, they could tag team with two responders on call.”
The responders would be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, Mr. Cammann said. Because the employees would be paid, he added, there would be no problem in always being able to put together a responding crew—as sometimes happens with volunteer departments.
East Hampton Village recently put together its own partially paid first-responder program to fix that very problem. Village Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. said he’d like to give that village effort “an opportunity to succeed” before committing to a new regional program.
“I think there are too many questions here that we have to take into consideration,” Mr. Rickenbach said. “You can put us on the list of wanting to be involved—but I don’t think we’re ready to commit at this point.”
The East End project was first proposed about a year and a half ago—before East Hampton, Montauk, Amagansett and Sag Harbor implemented or budgeted for individual partially paid first-responder programs. Springs and Bridgehampton still rely solely on volunteers.
Mr. Cammann said there are still voids in emergency medical care that the East End Ambulance Responder Project would fill.
Sag Harbor Village, which budgeted for a paid first responder in its 2014-15 budget, has been extremely supportive of the idea, he said. Sag Harbor Village Mayor Brian Gilbride could not be reached for comment.
Mr. Cammann said he plans to head to Montauk to present the project to its fire district on Wednesday.
The six districts listed in the proposed program are currently in a mutual aid agreement that allows them to lend services across districts when needed, but only under very specific circumstances, Mr. Cammann said. “With mutual aid,” he said, “it depends on the level of the call in order for paid first responders to cross into other jurisdictions.”
For example, said Mr. Cammann, if a paid first responder from Amagansett hears a call come across the radio of a person with severe chest pain in East Hampton Village, that paid first responder cannot technically respond to the call. If the call comes across the radio as “echo,” which means cardiac arrest, the paid responder from Amagansett could respond.
“The person basically has to be dead in order for a paid first responder from another district to attend,” he said, something a regional service would address.
The village would also be given the opportunity to save money, said Mr. Cammann, because it would alleviate the need for a paid first-responder person, since this service would provide inter-district coverage 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“The person wouldn’t get laid off,” Mr. Cammann said when asked what would be come of the recent hire in East Hampton Village if it were to adopt this program. “We’d just hire them to come work for us. It’d be better for the paid paramedics, because we could offer them a better salary, which would make them more loyal, and it would spread the cost-base over a larger area, but also create redundancy.”
Funding for the program would be derived from the creation of a special tax district, according to the presentation. Much like the way a police force is funded, a special tax district would serve those benefiting from the proposed service, who would pay additional taxes based on the value of their home, said Mr. Cammann.
The coalition proposed a budget of $2.5 million across the six districts to start the program, based on the estimated general operational expenses, annual payroll, rent and overhead, and capital reserve. On average, a home assessed at $2 million would pay $274.60 a year in additional taxes; a home assessed at $1 million would pay $137.30 in additional taxes; and a home assessed at $500,000 would pay $68.65.
Those numbers, according to the presentation, were determined based on the total of the six districts’ tax rolls—a total of $18,203,092,716—divided by the proposed $2.5 million budget.
“If you’re talking about property value, that’s not where the most usage of the ambulance services are,” said East Hampton Village Trustee Barbara Borsack during the meeting.
“It’s the same way the police and the highway departments are done,” responded Mr. Cammann. “It doesn’t matter geographically where you live. Everyone is paying based on valuation of property.”
Furthermore, said Mr. Cammann, it would be “impossible” to base taxes on how many calls were placed in a particular area, because it is ever-changing.
Mr. Cammann said his intention was to get a better idea of which municipalities are interested in participating, a suggestion from both East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell and Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst.
Mr. Cantwell said on the phone on Tuesday that he believes the project should not start “from the top down. I want them [the fire districts] to take the lead in describing to us how they want to move forward,” he said.
Ms. Throne-Holst could not immediately be reached for comment.
“It’s still a work in progress,” Mr. Cammann said. “The real point is, everyone from Bridgehampton to Montauk has called for or knows someone who has called for an ambulance in the past year,” he said. “We’re looking toward the future, looking toward the fact that our clients, which are the public, are demanding better health care and a better response from emergency services, and deserve it. So we have an obligation to them to look ahead and see what’s best for them to the best of our fortune-telling abilities.”