By Ellen Frankman
The East End Ambulance Coalition has been meeting with East Hampton dispatch and representatives from Southampton Hospital every other month for over 20 years. Last summer, it was decided that something needed to be done to address the influx in call volume.
A long term solution set for 2014 was devised in the form of an interagency paid first responder program which will provide an additional five cars on the road in the summer months and three cars in the winter months to be dispatched at the same time as the district ambulances. The short-term solution was the creation of a daytime duty ambulance called TAC, short for tactical.
“The strategy came from a model done farther west in Islip,” said Phil Cammann, co-chair of the East End Ambulance Coalition and a volunteer in the Bridgehampton Fire Department since 1980. “It’s a concept where each day of the week, with the exception of Sunday, each agency is to come up with a crew that would respond the same way that we do for night duties, simultaneously dispatched with the home agency.”
The daytime duty crews went into effect July 1, and include four of the six districts of the East End Ambulance Coalition, including Bridgehampton, Sag Harbor, East Hampton and Springs. Amagansett is not participating because their internal scheduling will not permit it, and Montauk is also not involved due to their creation of a paid paramedics program that went into effect this summer.
“It’s what we’ve been doing for the past 10 years, but this is just a little more hands on,” said Eddie Downes, who also co-chairs the East End Ambulance Coalition and is the Sag Harbor Volunteer Ambulance Corps president. “We are just trying to make patient care.”
According to both Downes and Cammann, emergency calls have been up across the board for all six districts. East Hampton dispatchers fielded 177 calls between Thursday and Sunday of the July 4th weekend this year, with Sag Harbor Volunteer Ambulance Corps handling 34 calls alone. Over the same holiday weekend last year, just 118 fire and EMS calls were reported.
“The past couple of weeks we’ve seen an extremely high call volume,” said Cammann. “Whether that is because of the weather or whether it’s because we have a higher population this summer, I don’t know.” Many of the EMS calls that came in over 4th of July were from patients who had difficult breathing due to the high temperatures and humidity.
But both Cammann and Downes feel the daytime duty crew has already proven successful. Response time is dramatically faster because even if the home agency can’t get a crew together within the first nine minutes of the call, the TAC ambulance is on the scene.
There is also very little additional cost because the crews are comprised of volunteers using existing vehicles. The little money that has been used has been spent on public service announcements, signage and educational resources to inform the community of what is a true emergency. Cammann emphasized that citizens should not assume that because they are transported to the hospital in an ambulance that they will be treated more quickly.
“The ambulance isn’t a taxi,” said Cammann. “Patients are treated according to the severity of their injury or illness, not because they came by ambulance.”
The East End Ambulance Coalition plans to more fully evaluate the success of the TAC ambulance in a meeting at the end of the month, that will base decisions going forward off response time and call volume data. Camman sees it as an ongoing process that they are assessing on a month-by-month basis.
“But in the two weeks we’ve been doing this,” said Cammann, “we’ve gotten extremely positive feedback from the police, the dispatchers, the officers and most importantly the members that are actually doing it.”