Trending Topics

Small Conn. towns struggle with increasing calls, decreasing staffing

The state’s Office of Emergency Medical Services reported an increase in calls and a decline of active members


A Suffield, Conn. ambulance.

Suffield Volunteer Ambulance Association/Facebook

By Susan Danseyar
The Middletown Press

HARTFORD, Conn. — First responder Ryan Litwin says he chose to live in Litchfield because of its fire department, and wonders how many people would pick a community to live in because of its access to emergency services.

“I love the department and grew up with it, volunteering with it for years,” said Litwin, who serves as the chief of the Bantam Fire Company, which provides services to the town along with the Litchfield Volunteer Ambulance. “That’s actually one of the major reasons why I decided to buy a house here.”

Everyone he knows says they appreciate volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians, Litwin said, “but do we really understand their challenges and sacrifices?”

Litwin said he’s concerned about the number of volunteer first responders — who have to leave families and jobs “at the drop of a hat” — possibly dwindling in Litchfield someday. It’s an issue that could very well have an affect on service and response times.

He joins a number of emergency medical service providers in small, rural Connecticut communities who say it’s a challenge to keep up with increased call volumes while seeing decreases in available staff.

On the opposite side of the state, towns in the northeastern quadrant are definitely “feeling the pinch” of attracting and maintaining personnel for emergency services, said Tyler Millix, executive director of Tolland County Mutual Aid Fire Service Inc., which provides 911 services to 17 towns encompassing 34 emergency service organizations within Tolland, Windham, and Hartford counties.

More calls, fewer staff

Data supports Millix’s claim in regard to a number of Connecticut agencies. According to the state’s Office of Emergency Medical Services, EMS providers throughout the state responded to anywhere from 55,000 emergencies in April 2020 to 83,000 in December 2022. Of the 396 EMS providers in the state, over 40 of them saw their number of active crew members drop.

Stratford lost 83 active crew members over a two-year period, dropping to 94 by 2022. The Suffield Volunteer Ambulance Association lost 42 active crew members, with EMS personnel dwindling to 77 in 2022. And Enfield Community Ambulance lost 16 active crew members, going down to 46 by 2022.

OEMS’s 2023 report is awaiting final approval and will be ready within a month or so, according to data manager and epidemiologist Eliza Little, but the 2022 data is the most recently available now.

“Every town is facing increased call volumes and decreased manpower, whether that’s volunteer or paid people,” Millix said. “It’s becoming harder and harder to find people to become contributing members of the organization.”

Former Somers Fire Chief John Roache, who is now heading Mansfield’s department, told officials in March his department once had a roster of volunteers who would stay for years, but turnover has become faster while call volume for advanced life support keeps going up — both in town and the several area communities where his personnel provide advanced life support. The Board of Selectmen allocated $20,000 in the 2024-25 budget for a campaign to retain and recruit volunteer firefighters.

Interim Somers Chief Keith Allard, who took over for Roache in May, has been a volunteer firefighter with the department for over 40 years. He said EMS calls are the most frequent for the department, with between 1,000 and 2,000 each year. The number his staff respond to in town and for other communities has increased substantially in the last 10 years, Allard said.

Stafford officials formed an Emergency Services Commission for directors of the town’s two fire departments and ambulance company to discuss the best ways in the future to handle the growing demand for all calls, including EMS.

West Stafford Fire Chief Joe Lorenzetti said there’s definitely been an increase in calls for EMS and fire/rescue incidents. About 10 years ago, he said the departments received 900 to 1,000 calls a year. In 2022, that number increased to 1,024, and to 1,400 in 2023. For 2024, Lorenzetti said he’s anticipating the call volume will be between 1,600 and 1,700 calls.

Alex Moore, director of the Stafford Ambulance Association, said his personnel are currently answering about 1,750 calls, averaging about four or five a day, that include advanced life support and mutual aid. To meet needs, he said the goal is to have two people on duty at all times. However, Moore said, it’s a struggle to find qualified EMTs and retain them.

The hourly wage for EMTs is $17.50 an hour, said First Selectman William “Bill” Morrison, who is also assistant chief of the West Stafford Fire Department. He pointed out less dangerous jobs such as working in the food industry pay that same wage. EMTs must also undergo extensive training that’s not only time-consuming but also expensive, he said.

Litchfield EMS calls are covered by the all-volunteer Bantam Fire Company and Litchfield Volunteer Ambulance, which is staffed by a combination of volunteers and staffing service employees.

Litwin said both services have seen a dramatic increase in EMS call volume over the years, attributing it to aging baby boomers and an increase in housing for older residents in the area.

“Those are what I would call a target hazard,” he said. “They significantly increased the call volume because of being a health care facility or having aging populations.”

The Bantam Fire Company has 70 firefighters and 30 EMTs with some personnel serving as both. It’s a close “brotherhood” with volunteers as the agency’s backbone, Litwin said. However, he said every single agency in the country is not where it wants to be in terms of recruiting and retaining personnel.

“Even if you have enough, you always want more,” Litwin said.

Bantam has a very strong membership, Litwin says, but in the summer, many people are often away on vacation. “It doesn’t take very much to upset the balance.”

Litwin said the two agencies are keeping up with demand and actively trying to recruit people. “But we are concerned,” he said. “We have some young people and older people who are the most reliable but they’re aging out.”

He said it’s not true that people don’t want to volunteer anymore. " Litchfield is busier than many agencies and just needs more volunteers.”

Response times

Another challenge for EMS providers is that the very nature of such calls demands immediate attention or, at the very least, as quick a response as possible.

According to OEMS data from 2020-22, urban towns had the most calls at 483,913, with the shortest average response time of 7.39 minutes. Suburban towns had 95,789 calls with an average response time of 8.12 minutes. Rural towns had the fewest calls at 89,895 yet the longest average response time of 10.7 minutes.

About nine minutes was the average response time across Connecticut for EMS calls in 2022, according to OEMS data. Response time is calculated from the moment dispatch notifies an agency of an emergency to the moment a crew arrives on the scene.

New London, at 5.01 minutes, had the fastest average response time in the state, according to OEMS’ most recent data. Washington, at 18.82 minutes, had the slowest average.

OEMS data for average response times takes into account outliers such as weather and transport delays because of traffic.

OEMS reported Somers, with one fire station, had an average response time of 6.02 minutes for EMS calls in 2022.

Allard recently compiled data for the past six months. There were 488 calls in Somers with a response time of 5.50 minutes. The 202 mutual aid calls to Stafford during the same time period had a response time of 11.13 minutes; for the 16 calls to Enfield, response time was 9.25 minutes; and for the 63 calls to Ellington, response time was 9.55 minutes, he said. The department made 5 calls to East Longmeadow, Massachusetts, with a response time of 10.57 minutes.

Stafford, with two fire stations, had an average response time of 10.70 minutes for EMS calls in 2022, according to OEMS data. Moore said calls in town are currently averaging about nine to 12 minutes.

One of the particular challenges for Stafford’s response times to calls lies in its geography. Stafford is the third-largest town in the state by acreage, Morrison said.

“We have 54 square miles,” he said. “Certainly, the distance around town makes a difference because we can get out the door fast but have a longer ride than many towns to our destinations.”

The town of Litchfield, with five fire stations, is also quite large in terms of land, with 56 square miles, Litwin said.

The average response time for EMS calls in Litchfield in 2022 was 8.08 minutes.

“Regardless of fire or rescue, fast response times are always what we want but is that realistic?” Litwin said. “I can have staff and the ambulance in my fire station but the furthest point of my district is still over 12 minutes away and that’s just driving time in good weather.”

Have you had an experience with an extremely long, or an extremely quick, response time for emergency medical calls? Please email reporter Susan Danseyar at

(c)2024 The Middletown Press, Conn.
Visit The Middletown Press, Conn. at
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Recruitment & Retention Resources
EMS1’s EMS trends state-of-the-industry survey provides targets for reducing stress, staffing challenges and leadership shortfalls
Rob Lawrence and Scott Moore on how to retain EMS staff through the first year
Paramedics: don’t settle for a living wage. Instead, be audacious and demand a thriving wage for your lifesaving career of community service
Promote a paradigm shift in your recruiting practices to hire your next employee and keep them engaged
If we want to keep up, it’s time we change gears and evolve from a traditional recruitment strategy
With a rising percentage of the workforce working a side gig or as a freelancer, services will need to adapt to recruit generations satisfied by being their own boss