Schenectady County

Board shuts down Duanesburg’s ambulance corps

The Duanesburg Town Board effectively pulled the plug on the Duanesburg Volunteer Ambulance Corps la
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Categories: Schenectady County

The Duanesburg Town Board effectively pulled the plug on the Duanesburg Volunteer Ambulance Corps late Thursday night, deciding that all emergency calls should be answered by the Rotterdam or Mohawk ambulance companies.

Town Board members said it was a difficult decision, but that hours of testimony from residents proved the town’s ambulance corps was unreliable.

“It isn’t getting any better. We needed to act. We had to act,” Supervisor Rene Merrihew said Friday.

At Thursday’s meeting, a school official described watching a Duanesburg High School student nearly bleed to death while they waited for an ambulance after the teen fell through a plate glass window. Others offered similar stories of long waits in harrowing conditions.

Ambulance volunteers said the delays were caused by the fact that most of them have left the company over disputes with Capt. Bruce Smith, who leads the corps. He did not return a call seeking comment.

In the past, some EMTs have said Smith responds to criticism by demoting crew members or leaving them at the emergency scene and telling them to find their own ride home.

Town Board member Jean Frisbee, who drives ambulances for the company, said Smith made her wait for 40 minutes before responding to a woman who had fallen in her kitchen and couldn’t get up. He wouldn’t answer the call until an emergency medical technician from Schenectady arrived, she said, even though he is a trained EMT and had been answering calls all day.

“I don’t know,” she said when a reporter asked her why Smith waited. “That was Bruce’s decision. We waited a long time.”

Merrihew said testimony made it clear the corps will not survive unless Smith steps down.

“Based on the information, that’s going to be the only way we’re going to increase membership,” she said.

But the Town Board has no authority over the independently run company. All it can do is withhold the town’s annual payment and contract with another ambulance company.

Last year, the town paid the corps $43,000. That was due to increase substantially this year, because corps members painted a “dire picture” of the corps’ finances when contract negotiations began in September, Merrihew said. Among the information: the corps had a $199,000 budget but revenues of just $126,000, including the town’s funding.

Later, it turned out the corps spent $123,000 in 2007, ending the year with a $3,000 surplus.

“The financial part of it is not as big a crisis as we thought,” Merrihew said.

The town offered to help anyway, proposing a $50,000 contract plus $20,000 held in escrow to reimburse the corps for new medical equipment.

“But in return, we need you to meet us halfway. We need you to try to reduce your expenses,” Merrihew said she told them. She wanted the corps to drop one of its four ambulances, saving roughly $3,000 in insurance; stop traveling to the Iron Man and other out-of-town events; and charge Knox and Princetown for covering medical emergencies there.

The corps never responded to the offer, Merrihew said.

MONEY NOT THE ISSUE

Now, she added, it’s clear that money was never the real issue.

“It doesn’t matter how much money they have — it won’t help with the volunteers,” she said.

This isn’t the first time medical workers have left the corps in protest of Smith’s leadership.

In 2003, half the EMTs walked out and refused to answer calls for three weeks, saying they would not return until Smith resigned. Most of them eventually agreed to come back with the promise of a new grievances committee, which could review Smith’s decisions and overrule them. But that committee was never created, Frisbee said.

“I don’t think that ever materialized,” she said.

She agreed with Merrihew that the corps can’t continue with Smith running the show. But, she said, the corps also won’t continue without him.

At a recent corps meeting, members asked for nominations for the captain position.

“Bruce was the only one that stood up,” Frisbee said.

The board voted 4-0 — with Councilman Francis Potter absent — to stop sending ambulance calls to the corps. On Friday, state police dispatchers were told to redirect the town’s 911 calls to the Rotterdam and Mohawk ambulance services.

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