Schenectady County

Ambulance corps comes under criticism

Erratic response times, missed calls and lingering doubts over the Duanesburg Volunteer Ambulance Co
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Categories: Schenectady County

Erratic response times, missed calls and lingering doubts over the Duanesburg Volunteer Ambulance Corps leadership may prompt the town to seek a different emergency service provider, Supervisor Rene Merrihew said Thursday.

Duanesburg officials expressed deep skepticism about the nonprofit ambulance service after hearing complaints and concerns from a standing-room-only crowd — including all four members of the company’s Board of Directors — at a Town Board meeting.

Merrihew, herself a former volunteer with the ambulance service, said the company’s instability in leadership and inconsistency in responding to calls has placed the town in a difficult position regarding the contract for service.

“We need a clear and concise plan from them on how they are going to supply service,” she said. “If the service isn’t being provided, then it’s time for the town to decide what to do with its business.”

Many residents who criticized the ambulance service pinned the recent dearth of volunteers on internal turmoil stemming from Bruce Smith, a longtime crew chief who was recently appointed interim captain. The board was presented with a list of more than 20 former volunteers who claimed they quit over Smith’s actions. Smith was not at the meeting.

Resident Bob Wall said the ambulance service wouldn’t attract any new volunteers until it corrected “self-generated” problems. He said the company leadership uses verbal abuse and intimidation.

“The volunteer ambulance corps is not going to survive as it is unless there are some serious changes in leadership,” he said. “It’s going to be a sad day if the company ceases to exist because they weren’t recognized and corrected.”

Delanson Assistant Chief Jeff Iveson witnessed the uncertainty of the ambulance company’s response after a Duanesburg High School student fell through a plate glass window earlier this month. Though he was able to stabilize the badly cut youth, he said, it took more than 20 minutes for an ambulance to arrive and bring the boy to Albany Medical Center Hospital.

“It’s pretty nerve-wracking when you’re waiting and watching a person bleed to death,” he said.

This month, Duanesburg was down to less than a dozen active members to serve as EMTs and drivers.

The 25-year-old ambulance service annually responds to more than 600 emergencies along the western edge of Schenectady County. The town annually contributes about $43,000, which is slightly less than a third of the organization’s overall funding.

Company Treasurer Mary Grimm said she resigned from the board because of leadership problems. Though not naming him directly, she insinuated Smith. “And his wife is chairman of the board,” she said, referring to Sharon Smith.

Mariaville Fire Chief Ken Labelle said his department refuses to aid the ambulance service because of confrontations.

“Something has to be done or there won’t be an ambulance corps here,” he said.

In response, Sharon Smith and fellow board member Tammy Nunez said the company’s main problems stemmed from recent leadership turnover and overall lack of volunteers. “They want an ambulance here, but where are they to volunteer,” she said.

But Merrihew said the company’s problems seem to extend beyond a lack of volunteers.

She said Duanesburg’s missed calls have increased dramatically over the last quarter and response times this year have averaged more than 20 minutes.

“How long can we ask residents to wait?” she asked Smith. “How long will it take before the ambulance corps is viable again?”

Smith said she didn’t know and couldn’t “put a timeline on it.”

Merrihew has contacted both the Rotterdam Emergency Medical Service and Mohawk Ambulance Service about coverage in the event the board ends the contract with Duanesburg. She said Mohawk, a for-profit company, agreed to dispatch ambulances out of Schenectady and bill patients for the service.

“The ambulance corps has some serious soul-searching to do,” she said. “There are too many people lying for too long in places they shouldn’t be.”

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