Volunteer shortage closes NY ambulance service

Between volunteers' busy schedules and tougher EMT requirements, one ambulance service is taking on the work of two

By Angela Hong

Bristol, N.Y. — Bristol Volunteer Ambulance has done what it can to attract more members. They’ve tried holding open houses, clambakes and recruiting through word-of-mouth.

"We're always looking for volunteers," says Bob Frost, the captain of the Bristol Rescue Squad. "If someone new comes into the area, we fill them in on it."

In its heyday, the Bristol Fire Department had at least a dozen volunteer EMTs for its ambulance service. Now that number has dwindled down to six and it has become difficult to sufficiently respond to medical calls.

David Parsons, a Bristol town board member, says it's a sign of the times.

Both men and women are now working full-time jobs and many people can't afford to volunteer their time.

Also, the requirements to become a certified EMT have become tougher.

According to Frost, people training to become EMTs now have to have 200 hours of training opposed to 150 when he trained five years ago. The requirements are the same whether you are a paid or volunteer EMT. The 200 training hours does not include the firefighting training hours many EMTs also have to take.

For all these reasons combined, the Bristol Town Board and Bristol Fire Department started discussing ways to provide better service two years ago.

Finger Lakes Ambulance has already been helping Bristol by responding to its daytime medical calls. Earlier this year, Finger Lakes Ambulance responded to all medical calls alongside Bristol Ambulance. Starting June 1, Finger Lakes Ambulance will start working alone.

The existing volunteer EMTs will now work as certified first responders. They will head to medical calls from their homes and will have a bag with medical supplies with them. A Finger Lakes Ambulance will meet them at the scene.

"There are more of us scattered throughout the district," says Frost. "When a call does come in, someone that lives closer to you will come.  You'll see a medic walking through the door a lot faster and start treatment and patient care."

Bristol Fire Chief Eric Dey says Finger Lakes Ambulance’s response times were just as good, if not better, than Bristol's. Time is saved because, unlike Bristol volunteers who have to go the firehouse for their gear and the truck, Finger Lakes EMTs are already out in their ambulances.

But not everyone is convinced the new system will work out better.

Bristol Deputy Supervisor Alden Favro says he’s concerned about the added costs for his residents.

When you’re transported to the hospital in a town ambulance, the transportation is free. However, Finger Lakes Ambulance is a paid service and the patient will get billed for transportation to the hospital.

"A lot of people aren't going to be able to afford the paid ambulance service," Favro says. "I anticipate that some of the older people that don't have a lot of money, like retired people will hesitate to call the ambulance knowing that they will be billed for it."

Frost says many insurance providers pay for ambulance service and ensures using Finger Lakes Ambulance is the best way to remedy the shortage of volunteers.

"We'll still be able to give the people of Bristol better service," he says. "They’ll see someone a lot faster and there will be benefits all the way around."

Reprinted with permission of WHAM

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