2010-01-22 / Top Stories

Emergency Medical Service Big Axes Volunteer Ambulances

By Howard Schwach

An ambulance from the Broad Channel Volunteer Fire Department responds to a snowy crash on Cross Bay Boulevard last December. An ambulance from the Broad Channel Volunteer Fire Department responds to a snowy crash on Cross Bay Boulevard last December. “Volunteer ambulances are no longer needed,” an unnamed high-ranking Emergency Medical Service chief recently told his subordinates in an email, published reports say.

The e-mail memo, issued last month, effectively boots 35 community-run ambulance corps from the EMS computer system, cutting them off from vital information that could save lives, experts say.

Among the 35 ambulance corps affected by the memo are the Broad Channel Volunteers and three volunteer units in Breezy Point.

Broad Channel resident Ed O’Hare, who is the president of the community’s volunteer fire department, says that he doesn’t understand the attitude of the EMS chiefs who made the decision.

“The city needs us, because we’re often the first response to a medical emergency,” O’Hare said. “We’re here only to save lives, and now the city says it doesn’t need us. That doesn’t make any sense.”

O’Hare said that the city EMS recently reached out to all of the volunteer ambulance corps to see what they each had available in case of a swine flu epidemic.

“They could have needed us then. What’s changed?” O’Hare asked.

“We have the same state certification as the EMS workers, do the same training, take the same classes. Now, they are shutting us out and somebody is going to die waiting for an EMS ambulance.”

Congressman Anthony Weiner issued a stern warning to city EMS officials.

“I understand the need to cut costs in a tough financial climate, but the city needs to find other ways to save money,” Weiner said. “The FDNY’s decision to cut 35 vital community-run ambulance companies from the city’s 911 emergency response system will put thousands of New Yorkers’ lives in jeopardy. Volunteer companies were some of the first to respond to 9/11 and to the crash site of American Airlines Flight 587. This is a service that New Yorkers can’t afford to lose.”

FDNY spokesperson Jim Long said that the department and volunteer units had collaborated in the past, but he claimed that volunteer units were never assigned calls through the CAD System that handles 911 emergencies.

Local volunteers say that it untrue.

“They call us all the time when they don’t have an ambulance available or when we’re much closer,” says a BCVFD volunteer firefighter. “Without us, Broad Channel would have very little first response capability, with the nearest firehouses and ambulances in Rockaway and in Howard Beach.

The EMS decision will soon become the subject of a City Council hearing, published reports say.

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