By Jeremy Walsh
After catching flak from elected officials, including City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), the city has agreed to repeal a policy change that excluded volunteer ambulance corps from the 911 dispatch system.
Crowley and a number of volunteer ambulance corps from the city gathered at City Hall Tuesday before a Council hearing on the matter to criticize the change. After the hearing she praised the department’s reversal.
“[EMT] Chief [John] Peruggia’s agreement to restore the policy that allowed volunteer ambulance groups to log on to the 911 system is a victory for all New Yorkers,” said Council Member Elizabeth Crowley. “While this is a step in the right direction, this is still progress to be made to reach a solution that will most effectively utilize these volunteer groups in partnership with the EMS.”
Fire Department officials said including the volunteer corps units is a courtesy since the city has never dispatched them to 911 emergencies.
“It has no impact on the public,” said FDNY spokesman Steve Ritea. “It has no impact on our operations. If they want information about a call, they can call us on the radio and we’ll share that with them. They asked us if we could allow them to do that again and we agreed to.”
Since October the FDNY stopped allowing the volunteer corps to register with 911 dispatchers when they were on shift.
“Now if somebody calls 911 for an ambulance, they’re going to have to wait for a Fire Department resource,” said Alan Wolfe, president of the Forest Hills Volunteer Ambulance Corps. “Oddly enough, there are still members of the Fire Department who do call us on the side to give us the job, because these are members who understand … that there are Fire Department resources so far away that they do call the hotline and give us the job.”
Ryan Gunning, head of the New York State Volunteer Ambulance Regional Association and a member of the Glendale Volunteer Ambulance Corps, said being disconnected from 911 dispatch makes it more difficult for them to call for help.
“Basically, if we need additional resources, we’re better off calling 911 on our cell phones to get the same response,” he said.
The Fire Department does not dispatch volunteer ambulances to 911 calls for a number of reasons, Ritea said. Not all of their vehicles have automatic location devices that allow their positions to be tracked, and the department has no guarantee about the level of training of a given ambulance crew, he said.
There are about 36 community-based volunteer ambulance corps throughout the city, Crowley’s office said. They respond to roughly 10,000 to 15,000 emergency calls annually, the councilwoman said.
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.