Volunteer Emergency Medical Services

Published on February 23, 2010, 11:57 am
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City Hall, NY – Council Member Elizabeth Crowley (D-Queens), Chair of the Fire and Criminal Justice Committee, along with Council Members Lew Fidler (D-Brooklyn), Vincent Gentile (D-Brooklyn) and Al Vann (D-Brooklyn), and dozens of community-based volunteer ambulance leaders, called on the FDNY to utilize the City’s neighborhood volunteer ambulances.

Funded by residents and government grants, there are about 36 community-based volunteer ambulance corps throughout the city, mostly stationed in Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island, and they respond to roughly 10,000 to 15,000 emergency calls annually. In January, the Fire Department booted the city’s volunteer ambulances from its 911 system which is seen as another step towards phasing them completely out of the emergency medical response.

“We must support our life-saving volunteers, not shut them out,” said Council Member Elizabeth Crowley.  “Today’s economic challenges have forced the City to make crippling cuts to our emergency medical services citywide. In the last year alone, three hospitals in Queens have closed and Ambulance Tours have been cut. That is we must move quickly on a solution that utilizes our volunteer ambulance services so they can continues saving New Yorker’s lives. In light of President Obama and Mayor Bloomberg’s push for nationwide community service, these groups exemplify the highest level of volunteerism. What message are we sending otherwise?”

In January 2010, it was reported that in October 2009 FDNY/EMS rescinded a 2001 EMS Command Order that allowed Community-based Volunteer Ambulances (CVBAs) to log on to the 911 system. The purpose of the Command Order was to maximize system utilization of available resources. FDNY/EMS indicates the policy change was due to outstanding agreements between the FDNY and the CVBAs for the purpose of defining resource capabilities and personnel qualifications. Furthermore, FDNY/EMS argues that CBVAs were not tracked in the EMS system and therefore, their units were not being utilized for daily incidents.

CBVA representatives are outraged with the decision claiming that the decision limits their role, making it harder for them to send to and receive critical information from EMS. They indicate that historically, CBVAs would “log in” to the 911 system and then call Emergency Medical Dispatch via the Mutual Aid Radio System (“MARS”) desk to obtain hospital status and situational awareness. This log on method also allowed the system to know when CVBAs were available.

Many CBVAs members across the City are outraged by the FDNY’s decision, including Ryan Gunning, head of the New York State Volunteer Ambulance Regional Association, who stated: “Especially in these times of economic uncertainty, volunteer resources stand ready, willing and able to help and assist the city of New York, yet they’re not being utilized… Why? This decision and action by the FDNY of ignoring the volunteer resources is counterproductive, dangerous, and may result in the loss of life.”

“FDNY’s move will inevitably result in backlogs, which will mean delays.  And when it comes to patient care, every second counts,” said Bedford-Stuyvesant Volunteer Ambulance Corps Commander James Robinson.

REMSCO urged FDNY/EMS to reinstate the Command Order so that CBVAs could participate in the 911 system. However, FDNY/EMS has indicated CVBAs have never been routinely dispatched as part of the City’s 911 system and that the decision to rescind the order was merely clerical. Furthermore, FDNY/EMS Intergovernmental Affairs Associate Commissioner Caroline Kreta has stated that, “the change will have no impact on FDNY/EMS, the 911 system or CVBAs, which will continue to operate as they always have.”

According to FDNY/EMS their use of CVBAs is limited to special City events, large-scale disaster drills and training exercises.  However, FDNY/EMS officials have acknowledged that at times FDNY/EMS dispatchers have directly contacted CVBAs.  Industry leaders on the other hand indicate FDNY/EMS dispatchers call them all the time. CBVAs also have individual emergency numbers which the public uses to request assistance and some CBVAs respond to police radio calls.

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