N.Y. county to supplement ambulance service

To make up for area agencies' staffing shortfalls, Niagara County employees will respond to calls in two ambulances during the day and one at night

Benjamin Joe
Niagara Gazette

LOCKPORT, N.Y. — A plan to improve ambulance service in the towns throughout Niagara County has been given the go-ahead by Niagara County legislators.

According to Fire Advisory Board Chairman Paul Gurnett, the issue had been recognized 10 years ago, when prior Fire Coordinator Jim Volkosh said that a crisis was brewing for ambulance services, but his warnings were not heeded.

For the past year-and-a-half, Gurnett said, intensive study was given to the issue and it culminated with the legislature approving a plan which will put county employees in two ambulances during the day and one at night, to supplement emergency services throughout the county.

Gurnett spoke at Tuesday's legislature meeting, urging county lawmakers to listen to the evidence and make the right choice.

"The first responders are the first to step up and help a person in need," Gurnett said later. "Now the first responders needed help and the legislature stepped up to help us."

The core of the situation is the loss of fire company volunteers post-pandemic. Fire Coordinator Jonathan Schultz said that the volunteers who have continued to provide their hours to respond — and train to respond — are doing the best they can and will continue to be a vital part of the fire response between Lewiston and Hartland.

"No one's trying to force anyone out," Schultz said. "We need everyone to stay. We all thank them for continuing to be a part of fire and ambulance service."

Schultz said that data from earlier in the year — spanning only six weeks — showed without a doubt what two extra ambulances could do for Niagara County.

"In January, Niagara County got two FEMA ambulances," he said. "They fielded over 200 calls in just six weeks.

The other side of that data is also conclusive.

"The time for a first responder unit to respond at the scene from 2020 to 2021: Thirty minutes to get something on the scene. An ambulance, a first responder. That increased by 51%," Chad Shepard of Niagara County Emergency Services said at the Legislature's meeting. "Forty-five minutes increased by 64%. 50 minutes increased by 300%."

Other volunteer ambulance services also came forward after the meeting concluded.

Philip Richardson, Chief of Tri-Town Ambulance Service, said that the plan was "going to be phenomenal" and would save the system of emergency response in Niagara County.

"The county isn't replacing anyone," Richardson said. "But if an agency is in need, they will help. A lot."

As for those who approved the measure, Shawn Foti, 14th District Legislator, said he was happy to support the measure having volunteered for Miller Hose Co. for 15 year.He is now a part of the Niagara County Fire Advisory Board. He noted that the need was there and the county did the right thing to intercede.

While nothing is set in stone — Gurnett said that the exact location of where the ambulances will be staged is uncertain, as is the hiring process — but Schultz said that a conversation with the area chiefs scheduled next week may turn up immediate ways to provide service. Options may include the procurement of used ambulances, before the full plan will be implemented by May of 2023

"I think we should thank everyone who's volunteered," he said. "Every one of them made the difference and continues to make a difference."


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