Sen. Stec: Consolidating service areas could help communities that are struggling to recruit, retain responders
By Megan Plete Postol
New York state Sen. Dan Stec has introduced legislation that aims to increase the efficiency and response time of emergency medical services (EMS) in the Adirondacks.
Emergency services for the Adirondacks face lengthier response times and more challenges providing essential services than in other parts of the state, Stec said, whose district covers a wide portion of the Adirondacks and Northern New York.
The proposed bill would give communities in the Adirondacks the power to create pooled EMS districts that cover a wider swath of territory. Stec believes this would allow districts to increase their pool of potential responders.
Many small communities in the Adirondacks find it challenging to recruit and retain volunteer emergency responders.
“We are facing the same thing: a shortage of volunteers,” Tupper Lake Volunteer Ambulance and Rescue Squad Chief John Miller said. “We have always struggled with this issue of volunteerism in our community.”
Of the community volunteers that do step forward, a lot of them are more interested in the fire sector than the rescue squad, Miller said. The Tupper Lake Volunteer Ambulance and Rescue Squad is a separate nonprofit organization not connected to the fire department.
As part of efforts to improve response time and public safety, the Tupper Lake Volunteer Ambulance and Rescue Squad employs a staff of paid EMTs. This ensures that there is always someone available to answer the call. The rest of the crew volunteers their time. But even with a paid staff EMT assisting the injured or sick person, they still rely on a volunteer to drive the ambulance. And not all emergency services districts in the park have the resources to pay responders.
Tupper Lake Volunteer Ambulance and Rescue Squad responds to an average of 800 to 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, this puts lives in danger.
So, will a pooling of emergency services in the Adirondacks help responders in Tupper Lake?
“Yes and no,” Chief Miller said. “Yes being that we could certainly use the sharing of resources. The no being that sometimes there is a reluctance among districts to do something like that.”
Increase in backcountry rescues
Stec’s proposed bill comes at a crucial time. Rescue calls in the Adirondacks have increased during recent years.
In 2019 there were 337 Department of Environmental Conservation ranger-involved search and rescue missions statewide. The Adirondack Park falls into the DEC’s Region 5 and Region 6. Of those rescues, 230 of them occurred in those regions combined. (Regions 5 and 6 include, but are not limited to, the Adirondacks). In 2020 there was a sharp increase in rescue calls; 276 in Region 5 and 48 in Region 6. The following year saw 232 and 49, respectively.
DEC ranger rescues are not officially connected to local emergency services, but are entwined in mission and responsibility. When rangers are called in to rescue, inevitably a local ambulance crew will be on standby in a safe location, waiting for the rescued to be turned over for care.