The East Hampton Village Ambulance serves not only the village but the Northwest Fire District and other areas of East Hampton outside the village.
Nearly a quarter of the East Hampton Village Ambulance Association volunteer corps has resigned since East Hampton Village Council unveiled plans on March 2 to create a new Emergency Services Department to oversee ambulance services.
Nine people have left and many more are reportedly considering leaving in the coming months. The departure occurred over a year in which, according to village records, the level of friction was already very high.
The number of volunteers decreased from 47 in December 2021 to 31 after this week’s exodus.
A public hearing on legislation to create the department will be held Friday at 11am in the Emergency Services Building during the monthly East Hampton Village Council meeting.
“I feel like I’m sending a 911 call to the community. We have been responding to them all along and now we need them to step up and respond to us,” said Geraldine Merola, a volunteer who recently stepped down. He has served with the East Hampton Village Ambulance Association for the past two years after serving with the Sag Harbor ambulance for seven. He will receive his paramedic license in June but will use his skills with Bridgehampton and Springs ambulances. He hopes for people to appear in court to speak out against the law.
“For 48 years before this government, we had a cooperative relationship with the village,” he said via telephone.
The Town of East Hampton is paying the village for an ambulance service to the Northwest Fire District and other areas of East Hampton outside the village, and Township Superintendent Peter Van Scoyoc said this week he was unhappy with the revamp. “I don’t understand why they made any changes or moves.”
“It should concern everyone in this city that there is a conflict in providing emergency services to the people,” he said. “I don’t see the benefit. I see a significant risk. I don’t think you’re going to get any better treatment than from someone who’s doing it for altruistic reasons, because they want to serve their community, versus someone who’s chasing a paycheck.
“We are not going to lose as many people as expected,” said Mayor Jerry Larsen. “The worst case scenario is that we lose 12, which means we only have 28 volunteers. We are happy with it. Mary Mott, our new ambulance chief, organized a night tour squad with the remaining volunteers.
“We have eight night squads, which is more than any other department in the East End,” says Ms. Mott. “They are a skeleton crew, a driver and one EMT. Did we wish each had one or two more? Yes, we do. But I can’t worry about what has happened. I need to focus positively on how I can make this department stronger in the future.”
Three former chiefs have left since the law was proposed. Eight of the nine people who resigned were emergency medical technicians, one advanced EMT and four were also drivers. One member handles 410 calls alone in 2022.
Mayor Larsen said the village would announce the addition of the new paid paramedic at a meeting Friday. In August, he rented again for $67,000.
A paid paramedic is in the Emergency Services Building around the clock.
The Mayor plans to hire two full-time EMTs by the summer. “And then we have our day employees,” he said. “We will have a full staff.”
“How do you explain that to the taxpayer?” asked Mrs. Merola. “You have now paid full-time employees who provide the services you used to get for free from volunteers.”
The village could eventually raise the money by charging for ambulance travel, an option the mayor said the village was exploring.
However, it may prove optimistic to think that the village can find and retain the workforce it needs.
Recruiting for all industries has been tough in the East End since Covid started. “The hospital has lost 50 per cent of doctors and physician assistants living between Montauk and Southampton in the last 18 months,” said Van Scoyoc. “How will the village attract paid employees when no one can find housing at the moment?”
One way the village hopes to attract employees is with a $17,000 recruiting video that the mayor says must be approved at Friday’s meeting.
“This is something completely new that we are trying to get out there and showcase on social media. Many people may not know an ambulance needs help. We can now recruit new drivers as well. You don’t need to be an EMT to be an ambulance driver anymore,” he said.
The East Hampton Rural Ambulance Association has relatively strict requirements for drivers, requiring them, in part, to be trained as EMTs after two years of driving.
“This opens up more opportunities to volunteer. You may get people who start driving and decide they want to become an EMT. We can expose them and reduce barriers,” said the mayor. “EHVAA is here to give encouragement. They can help people come together.”
The next step was for the association to negotiate a fee from the village to provide recruiting, training and “fraternity” for ambulance members.
But members who withdrew said the association was about more than moral.
Sheila Dunlop was a member for 34 years before stepping down this week. “This is very sad,” he said. “I love every minute of it until I don’t like it.”
He described a meeting on March 8, between Mayor Larsen and the ambulance association. “I felt he had a condescending undertone,” he said. “He kept telling us we could have dinner. When we have a meeting, and the room is full of EMS people, I can tell you no one cares about dinner. It was a slap in the face.
“I felt that when the mayor saw us, he really had no idea who we were,” said Ms. Merola. “He led by talking about the party. Do you really think we’re here to party? They are not that great. You joined to practice medicine and are here for society.”
“People want to serve their community,” Mayor Larsen agreed. “And changing the ambulance organizational structure doesn’t preclude that.”