The East End Ambulance Coalition is asking the community to stop and think before calling for an ambulance.
Often, coalition members say, EMS workers get tied up in situations that do not require an ambulance. The coalition hopes to improve emergency response times across the board. This month it distributed a flier outlining situations when calling an ambulance would be appropriate.
The effort goes hand in hand with the group’s aim to start a paid first responder program in the summer of 2014 to supplement the volunteer system now in place. While planning is under way, the coalition wants to get the word out that the responders’ time is precious.
With simple images of an ambulance and a taxi, the flier tells readers which situation is appropriate for each: call a taxi for a headache, a runny nose, a stubbed toe or for a designated driver; call an ambulance for a heart attack, an accident or heavy bleeding.
The distinctions seem obvious, but according to coalition member Philip Cammann, a Bridgehampton paramedic and Southampton Volunteer Ambulance EMS manager, many people are unaware of just how busy the EMS systems are on the East End.
Each year, between all six agencies that make up the coalition—Bridgehampton, Sag Harbor, East Hampton, Springs, Amagansett and Montauk—approximately 4,500 calls come in. Mr. Cammann said about 20 percent of these calls most likely do not require an ambulance and are situations where family could take their loved one to the hospital by car. In many of these cases, he said, the person has been sick or has had a rash for days before the ambulance was called.
East Hampton Village Ambulance EMT Florence Stone said the general public has a notion that taking an ambulance provides a faster route to the hospital, but in the summer, when ambulances are running almost constantly, that is often not the case. She said anything that a doctor’s office could take care of is typically not appropriate for an ambulance ride, although it’s best to be on the safe side.
“If there is any hesitation where it is or isn’t appropriate, we will certainly be available,” she said. “We’re trying to keep as many ambulances for true emergencies as possible.”
East Hampton Village Ambulance Chief Mary Ellen McGuire did not immediately return a call for comment about response times, but the association’s website lists the number of calls it has had this year so far at 626, with the most stemming from June.
While response times are on average about five to eight minutes for the Bridgehampton Fire Department and Ambulance, according to Mr. Cammann, if an ambulance is coming back from the hospital from a call for a broken toe, that could delay the response time.
The number of emergency calls the volunteer departments respond to has increased dramatically in recent years. Last year, 14 Bridgehampton Fire Department ambulance crew members responded to 150 calls, 30 active members of the East Hampton Village Ambulance Association responded to 1,300 calls, 30 volunteers from the Sag Harbor Volunteer Ambulance Corps responded to 750 calls, and 15 Montauk EMTs responded to 700 calls. The numbers for Springs were not immediately available.
A pilot program started in Montauk this year puts one paid advanced life support provider on duty all the time from June 15 to September 15.
Meanwhile, Mr. Cammann said, the coalition has been holding informal sessions to work out the budget for a paid first responder program that would assign EMTs to 12-hour shifts from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. About 12 to 15 people would need to be hired.
He suggested asking the following questions when an injury occurs: Is the victim having trouble breathing? Is there chest pain? Is there bleeding? Is there a broken bone where the victim can’t move without pain? Is there anyone who can drive the patient to the hospital?
“We are there—we are not going to refuse you—but if you’ve got something minor and need treatment for something going on for three or four days, go to the hospital or your clinic,” he said. “If your neighbor is having that minor ailment and you’re having the heart attack, you want the ambulance available for you. Put yourself in the other person’s position.”