With only a handful of emergency calls in the town on Tuesday, there wasn’t very much business for any ambulance company — especially the one no longer dispatched by Rotterdam police.
Starting at midnight, dispatchers were under a directive to send one of two rigs from Mohawk Ambulance stationed in town to all emergency calls. Still, crews with Rotterdam Emergency Medical Services Inc. came to work as scheduled, knowing they could spend their entire shift doing menial tasks around the company’s two stations in town instead of tending to medical calls.
Then around 3:30 p.m., the unlikely happened: REMS received a call for service. Though both of Mohawk’s ambulances were unoccupied at the time, the caller apparently requested the town’s not-for-profit company by name, something that helped to lift spirits among its crew of roughly four dozen emergency medical technicians and paramedics, mostly part-timers.
“When that call came in, it raised a lot of hope in the room,” acknowledged Mario Farina, the not-for-profit company’s chief of operations. “It’s difficult, but we’re trying to stay positive.”
Support for REMS has been growing around town as the company battles for its future. Hundreds turned out at a meeting of the Highbridge Civic Association Monday — an organization that normally draws an audience of about a dozen —after Deputy Supervisor Wayne Calder was placed on the agenda to discuss the future of the town’s emergency medical services.
Some local businesses have posted messages supporting for REMS. And there’s an ongoing petition drive encouraging a state investigation into the circumstances surrounding the town’s effort to secure a new ambulance contract.
Both REMS and Mohawk are expected to submit proposals for the town’s emergency medical services in the coming weeks. Town officials are expected to hear pitches from both companies on Dec. 5 and then to vote on the matter on Dec. 11.
Mohawk released a statement through a spokesman indicating it remains committed to Rotterdam. The company is now dispatching ambulances from the Rotterdam Senior Center.
REMS has been the primary ambulance dispatched to emergencies ever since the company was formed by the merger of two volunteer organizations in 2004. The town-funded paramedics operating out of the police department were also dispatched to emergencies to provide advance life support services.
But the paramedics were eliminated by Supervisor Harry Buffardi as a cost-savings measure adopted this month in the 2014 budget. The service was expected to run through the end of the year, but Police Chief James Hamilton claimed there weren’t enough full- or part-time paramedics available to fill the schedule.
REMS offered to provide a paramedic service by bringing aboard the ones left unemployed by the town. Dean Romano, a former town paramedic hired to coordinate advance life support services with REMS, said the company is could provide the same level of care as Mohawk.
“We requested [the police] reconsider dispatching REMS as they had in the past, but they’ve decided to not do that,” he said.
Buffardi said the switch in dispatching practices was necessary to ensure a “seamless” transition before a new contract is signed. He said the decision had nothing to do with preference.
“We have a process we have to go through,” he said.
Only critics believe the decision has already been made. Stan Wilgoki, one of the town’s part-time paramedics now working with REMS, believes the paramedic service cut by the budget was part of a tacit agreement the Buffardi administration had with Mohawk months in advance.
“The paramedic program was cut with the knowledge that all these things were in the works to be approved,” he said.
REMS will now make an appeal to both the board and town residents to preserve its future. Without the ambulance contract, the company will most likely face dissolution sometime next year.
Now the company is urging residents who support them to request REMS by name. Wilgoki hopes the people who want REMS to remain the town’s primary ambulance will make their voices heard.
“When you compare the two services, you have to wonder why there’s an issue,” he said.