Sen. Stec: Consolidating service areas could help communities struggling to recruit and retain responders
By Megan Pleté Postol
New York State Senator Dan Stec introduced legislation to increase the efficiency and response time of emergency medical services (EMS) in the Adirondacks.
Emergency services for the Adirondacks face longer response times and more difficulty providing essential services than in other parts of the state, said Stec, whose district covers a large portion of the Adirondacks and northern New York.
The proposed bill would give communities in the Adirondacks the power to create consolidated EMS districts that would cover more of the territory. Stec believes this would allow districts to increase their pool of potential responders.
Shortage of volunteers
Many small Adirondack communities struggle to recruit and retain volunteer emergency responders.
“We’re facing the same thing: a shortage of volunteers,” said John Miller, Tupper Lake volunteer ambulance and rescue team leader. “We have always struggled with this volunteer issue in our community.
Of the community volunteers who show up, many are more interested in the fire department than the rescue team, Miller said. The Tupper Lake Volunteer Ambulance and Rescue Team is a separate non-profit organization that is unrelated to the fire department.
As part of efforts to improve response time and public safety, the Tupper Lake Volunteer Ambulance and Rescue Team employs a staff of paid paramedics. This ensures that there is always someone available to answer the call. The rest of the crew donates their time. But even with paid EMT personnel assisting the injured or ill person, they still rely on a volunteer to drive the ambulance. And not all emergency service districts in the park have the resources to pay responders.
The Tupper Lake Volunteer Ambulance and Rescue Team responds to an average of 800-900 calls per year. They have three ambulances, and Miller said there are times when all three are needed at the same time. When there are not enough people available to answer the call, or to answer it immediately, it puts lives at risk.
So, will pooling emergency services in the Adirondacks help responders in Tupper Lake?
“Yes and no,” Chief Miller said. “Yes given that we could certainly use resource sharing. The no being that there is sometimes a reluctance among districts to do something like this.
Increase in backcountry rescues
Stec’s proposed bill comes at a crucial time. Relief calls in the Adirondacks have increased in recent years.
In 2019, there were 337 search and rescue missions involving Department of Environmental Conservation rangers across the state. The Adirondacks Park is part of DEC Regions 5 and 6. Of these rescues, 230 took place in these regions combined. (Regions 5 and 6 include, but are not limited to, the Adirondacks). In 2020, there was a sharp increase in relief calls; 276 in Region 5 and 48 in Region 6. The following year, 232 and 49, respectively.
DEC ranger rescues are not officially tied to local emergency services, but are bound by mission and responsibility. When the rangers are called to rescue, inevitably a local ambulance crew will be on standby in a safe place, waiting for the rescued person to be handed over to care.
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