Come June 15, Montauk will have paid workers responding to medical emergencies 24 hours a day, making it the first district in the Town of East Hampton to start a paid EMS system.
The Montauk Fire District Board of Fire Commissioners approved a pilot program at its meeting on Tuesday, according to Joseph Dryer, the chairman.
The program will put one paid advanced life support provider on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, during Montauk's busiest months, from June 15 to Sept 15. The estimated cost is $80,000. The district's current budget did not fund the program, and Dryer said the commissioners are still crunching numbers.
The move comes just as EMS agencies in the Town of East Hampton explore making the leap from volunteer-only agencies to a proposal from the East End Ambulance Coalition that would introduce paid first responders year-round. The plan is being formulated for the summer of 2014.
Commissioner Carmine Marino said he had a lot of questions when the program was first presented to the commissioners, but he came to realize the cost was manageable and the program was necessary. "In Montauk, we need to be proactive. We can't be reactive. If we wait until the East Hampton coalition does something — that could be two years from now. We need it now," he said.
"We hope it will show the need we have for more volunteers. I hope this spurs the motivations for people," Dryer said. "I hope the pilot project has a beginning and end so we don't see an end to volunteerism."
The set up is working for volunteer-based departments elsewhere. Mitch Savino, a paramedic with the Holbrook Fire Department who also works as a part-time East Hampton Town Marine Patrol officer, spoke to the commissioners before they reached their decision on Tuesday.
According to Alan Burke, the captain of the department's ambulance squad, Savino reported that 85 percent of districts on Long Island have already instituted some type of paid system. Until now, the farthest east to have paid personnel is Southampton Volunteer Ambulance, which covers portions of Water Mill.
Burke and his lieutenant Kenneth Alversa will oversee the program for Montauk Fire Department and is in charge of hiring paramedics or advanced emergency medical technicians (also known as critical care EMTs). "We've been getting resumes already. We've been getting phone calls from paramedics and CCs who want to work Montauk for the weekend — my God who wouldn't?," Burke said. "We're getting calls from Amagansett, East Hampton and Bridgehampton — people we know and like who already know Montauk."
These per diam employees who already work elsewhere will work 12-hour or 24-hour shifts. They'll be paid between $21 and $25 per hour depending on their level of expertise and experience.
The department is going to convert a room at the firehouse where they can get some sleep in between calls.
East Hampton Town Police Chief Ed Ecker, who is also a resident of Montauk and a member of the Montauk Fire Department, said he supports the commissioners, especially because of the way the call volume continues to increase. Even in the first three months of 2013, he said, ambulance calls throughout the town have increased by about 100 over the previous year.
"There's more people living here in the off season than have in the past. More people retire here to what used to be their second homes," he said.
As someone who grew up in Montauk, he said this move shows how the area has changed drastically. "Montauk Fire Department and ambulance squad has a tradition of giving the best possible care to the citizens of Montauk," he said. But the call volume, "trumps everything."
Also, Ecker said, he believes more people are using the ambulance for non-emergencies than they haven't been used in the past. "We've had people call the ambulance for tooth aches or cuts that may not be life threatening," he said.
The East End Ambulance Coalition is planning some campaigns for the spring and summer to better educate residents and visitors on what constitutes an emergency.
Are you glad to see the commissioners move forward with this pilot program? Tell us in the comments below.