Schenectady County

An ambulance is ready, but no crew

Nick Ragucci was ready to head out to an emergency call late one evening last March, but instead fou

Nick Ragucci was ready to head out to an emergency call late one evening last March, but instead found himself waiting at the Duanesburg Volunteer Ambulance Corps station.

The volunteer emergency medical technician hustled down to headquarters shortly after receiving a dispatch tone for a local man in severe respiratory distress. When he arrived minutes later, he found himself alone with four ambulances.

“There was no crew there,” he recalled. “There was nobody around.”

Ragucci drove his own car out to the man’s home and helped stabilize him until another neighboring ambulance service could arrive. Nearly an hour later, the patient was heading to an area hospital.

It’s a story Ragucci and other Duanesburg volunteers have become all too familiar with recently, as the ambulance company struggles to find personnel. Often, they say, crews are either overworked or understaffed when emergency calls come in.

As of last month, Duanesburg was down to about a dozen active members to serve as EMTs and drivers for the 25-year-old nonprofit ambulance crew that annually responds to more than 600 emergencies along the western edge of Schenectady County.

Leadership turnover and a lack of volunteers has caused serious problems for response times, according to Bill VanHoesen, the county’s emergency management director.

“They’ve had a problem with response times that has extended for a period of time,” he said.

And the problems appear to be getting worse. Duanesburg’s captain of just six months resigned this week out of exhaustion. The lack of personnel has resulted in dozens of mutual aid responses from ambulance services in Rotterdam and Schenectady this year.

“So far this year, we’ve missed like 30 calls or so already,” Ragucci said. “It’s definitely a problem for the community.”

The ambulance company’s board of directors called a special meeting this week and made an appeal for help to four surrounding volunteer fire departments. Board Treasurer Mary Grimm said the company is in such desperate need for volunteers that they’re exploring whether they can legally use members of neighboring fire departments during calls.

“We’ve got to find out what all our options are right now,” she said. “And, in the meantime, we’ve got to get our Duanesburg Volunteer Ambulance Company in line.”

Grimm said finding volunteers for the ambulance company has grown progressively difficult over the past few years. She said the lack of new recruits is compounded by the company’s aging membership. Some of them can no longer physically serve on an ambulance crew.

“Unfortunately, they become support members, which we also need, but they can’t go out to the calls,” she said.

The shortage of personnel has also caught the attention of the Duanesburg Town Board, which is in ongoing contract negotiations with the ambulance company. Supervisor Rene Merrihew said the town annually contributes about $43,000, which is slightly less than a third of the organization’s overall funding.

“People need to volunteer and step up to the plate,” said Merrihew, who is a member of the ambulance company’s support staff. “All the money in the world is not going to go out and get more volunteers.”

Grimm said the company will make an appeal for more volunteers at the annual Duanesburg Days celebration next month and plans to pass out fliers at the high school. Though volunteers with any type of medical background are preferred, she said, the company is capable of finding the training for any able-bodied person willing to help.

Anyone interested in volunteering with Duanesburg can contact Grimm at 895-2330 or fellow board member Amy Jo Simpson at 875-6209.

“Whatever they can give us, we’ll find a niche for them,” she said.

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