Duanesburg sets rules for rescue squad response

Personnel from the Duanesburg Volunteer Ambulance Corps will have three minutes to muster a crew for

Personnel from the Duanesburg Volunteer Ambulance Corps will have three minutes to muster a crew for an emergency call before state police dispatchers signal for mutual aid from other area rescue companies, town officials said tonight.

The brief window will make it nearly impossible for the nonprofit ambulance service to respond to emergencies, effectively continuing a Town Board policy of diverting all calls to the Rotterdam Emergency Medical Service or Mohawk Ambulance in Schenectady. Last week, board members directed the state police to cease dispatching the embattled Duanesburg company and gave its Board of Directors a week to produce a roster of volunteer availability.

By dispatching calls outside of Duanesburg, however, the town inadvertently caused Rotterdam’s ambulance service to violate state Department of Health regulations. These guidelines require that the town’s certified ambulance service be given at least three minutes to respond to an emergency before a mutual aid company is dispatched, Supervisor Rene Merrihew said.

“It’s bureaucratic red tape, but its the best thing this town can do to stay in compliance with the law,” she told the standing-room-only crowd at Town Hall tonight.

Town officials expressed dismay at the failure of the ambulance service’s leadership to produce the roster they had requested. Town Board member Martin White advised the company to devote time their time away from being dispatched to emergencies to creating a plan that will rejuvenate the ambulance service.

“We want you to succeed,” he told the company’s board. “What we’re looking at right now is a reprieve so you guys can reorganize.”

The ambulance corps came under fire this month after a dramatic increase in missed calls between December and January, as well as an overall increase in response times. Whenever the ambulance service is unable to respond to a call, it can take more than 20 minutes for another mutual aid company to arrive.

Some company officials blamed the missed calls and slower response times on a lack of volunteers. Many former volunteers and even officers from other emergency organizations said recently that this shortage was made worse by Bruce Smith, the ambulance service’s former captain.

“Everybody knows what the problem is,” shouted Jim Wengenack, the husband of Susan Wengenack, who served as captain between 2006 and 2007. “It’s Bruce Smith and his crony board.”

Board Chairwoman Sharon Smith said her husband is no longer the captain and has decided against serving in the position in a temporary capacity. She said the company will be led by Marc DeBraccio, a senior crew chief, until the ambulance service can conduct elections during a meeting later this month.

“The crews that are there are working together with a united front,” she said following the meeting.

Schenectady County Emergency Management Director Bill VanHoesen offered his assistance to help the ambulance service return to viability. But he said the insistence that the problems were solely related to a lack of volunteers is not addressing the company’s issues in their entirety.

“There are seven other organizations here in [Duanesburg] and no one else is saying they’re in a crisis situation,” he said.

The ambulance service is also going on its second month without a contract from the town, meaning it now lacks nearly a third of its operating budget. By having calls diverted to other ambulance services, the company is also stripped of its primary source of revenue.

Merrihew said the town will continue to withhold a contract from the company until it can demonstrate its reliability. She said the roughly $70,000 budgeted for the service this year will be indefinitely withheld.

“It’s not something that is on the table at this point,” she said.

Smith said the company is also committed to doing whatever is necessary to remain fiscally solvent. She said the volunteers are exploring a number of fundraising opportunities to continue generating revenue.

“We’re going to do whatever we can do to keep this going,” she said.

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