More than 20 minutes — that's how long it took for an ambulance to reach a near-centenarian who tripped and fell in front of the Post Office in East Hampton Village on Wednesday.
"It was really sad to see a 97-year-old gentleman lying on the cold, concrete ground," JB D'Santos said of the incident.
While D'Santos told the village board the man waited 25 minutes, and that the police department, which also responds to EMS calls, took 10, Village Police Chief Jerry Larsen said the first officer was on scene just 2 minutes after the call at 1:38 p.m. An ambulance arrived 21 minutes after the call, Larsen said, after reviewing the times.
D'Santos said he and a few others tried to comfort the bloodied, confused man until a Springs Fire Department ambulance made it to the post office, which is outside of the area it covers. Under a mutual aid agreement, neighboring ambulance services can respond to another jurisdiction when the home-ambulance needs help.
For this mid-day call, the East Hampton Village Ambulance Association — made up strictly of volunteer emergency medical technicians and drivers — did not have a full crew to treat the patient, who was ultimately transported to Southampton Hospital. D'Santos said a Springs EMT wanted a medevac helicopter to respond, but the weather prohibited its flight.
"I think we need to do something in relation to that," said D'Santos, who is a real estate agent who works in the village and a co-chair of the East Hampton/Sag Harbor Citizens Advisory Committee. "If it had been a heart attack, he would have been gone."
"That's not acceptable," Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. said of the time-lag. He told D'Santos the board would look into the issue, as the village board oversees the funding for the ambulance association, as well as the East Hampton Fire Department.
"We are looking into alternative ways to make it better," said East Hampton Village Ambulance Association Chief Mary Ellen McGuire. She agreed that it was unfortunate it took 20 minutes for an ambulance on Wednesday, but that one ambulance was out of the district.
Earlier that day, at about 10:45 a.m., her department responded to a call where the patient required a CATscan. The CATscan at Southampton Hospital was down, and the ambulance had to take the patient to Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead. It was three hours before they returned to the ambulance barn, she said.
The lack of volunteer EMS personnel available to answer all of the calls, particularly during the day, is not a new issue.
Larsen, who also heads the village's dispatching services, said it's an ongoing problem. "We've been dealing with it all summer long," he said.
With an ever growing number of calls, particularly on the South Fork, EMS leaders have had to look for ways to ensure calls are answered. One way was the mutual aid agreement, instituted nearly 10 years ago. Depending on the severity of a call, after two or three reactivations, a neighboring organization is called in.
East Hampton Volunteer Ambulance Association is the busiest EMS provider in the Town of East Hampton, answering 1,363 calls in 2012. In December alone, it was dispatched 88 times, 12 of which were for mutual aids to other districts.
Certain agencies, like East Hampton's ambulance, have squads at night. But, covering calls during the day, when many volunteers are working, has become increasingly difficult. It's a universal problem on the South Fork, Rickenbach said.
"We have nothing but gratitude for the effort and energy and time put forth by the volunteers," Rickenbach said, but he added, "We've got to make it better than it is."
EMS personnel in the Town of East Hampton have broached the subject of instituting some sort of paid system. Departments as far east as Southampton have had paid paramedics and EMTs on duty for several years. Asked whether he would support a paid system, Rickenbach said: "That's on the table. It may be something that's closer down the road than longer term," he said.
D'Santos also told the board that he was surprised the two village police officers who responded did not offer the man oxygen. Officers do carry oxygen tanks in their vehicles. Larsen checked with the responding officers on Friday afternon, and they said the man did not require oxygen.
Larsen added that all officers are trained in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation.