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Increase of EMTs keeps N.Y. ambulance service alive

Otego officials had been debating turning town EMS over to Otsego County Emergency Services


Otego Volunteer Fire Department/Facebook

By Lauren Takores
The Daily Star

OTEGO, N.Y. — A debate among the Otego fire commissioners about continuing its ambulance service seems to have resolved itself as the town’s emergency squad has taken on more EMTs.

For the past couple of months, the fire commissioners have considered whether to keep the town ambulance and emergency squad, or sell the ambulance and let Otsego County Emergency Services answer calls.

Otego Fire Commission Chairperson Francis Secor said Monday, Nov. 13 that an increase in the workforce has solved the issue “for now, but it’s not forever.”

The county handled 70% of Otego incidents in 2022, and 78% this year as of July 31, according to information provided by Otsego County E911 Director Robert O’Brien .

The calls to which the county did not respond were covered by Otego EMS, Oneonta EMS and AMR.

Because of this, some felt the cost of the ambulance was not justified. The Otego fire commissioners held an informational meeting Nov. 7 with county public safety officials.

While there were questions about if the ambulance would be sold, it hasn’t been an issue since the town was able to recruit a few more people to the emergency squad, Secor said.

“It’s starting to pick back up,” he said.

Otego is not the only town within Otsego County with emergency squad workforce issues, in fact it’s a nationwide problem, O’Brien said Monday.

Last year, Cherry Valley surrendered its ambulance operating authority and only retained first responders, who attend to an incident until an ambulance arrives and use a fire department-owned vehicle to get to the scene.

Prior to that, Pittsfield had done the same, contracting with New Berlin for ambulance coverage for 16 hours per day. The county supplements the rest of the time.

Neither O’Brien nor Pittsfield Town Supervisor Shelby Wing knew exactly when the change happened, but it was prior to 2017.

According to information from Otsego fire commissioners secretary/treasurer Lewis Keyser revised Sept. 5, the annual estimated expenses for the Otego Fire District for fiscal year 2024 totals $156,929, with no budget shortfall. All but $4,000 is funded through tax revenue.

At the Oct. 17 Otego ambulance service forum, the discussion included the primary issues facing all rural fire and EMS department — lack of new and younger members, sizable increases in fuel, equipment repairs and replacement costs and interest rates, a lack of population and therefore small tax base, the loss of federal and state grants with no local grant sources to close the gap and the need to maintain equipment, operations and efficiency — including having two pumper trucks — to keep resident insurance rates low.

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