NORTH SALEM N.Y. - The North Salem Volunteer Ambulance Corps (NSVAC) needs more volunteers.
And, it needs a new ambulance.
To get all the shifts covered, NSVAC Capt. Maria Hlushko estimates the corps should have a roster of about 56 volunteers. Currently, it has 10 active members.
To fill the shifts, the corps in 2016 lobbied the town to have a paid crew on the weekend and depends on mutual aid from surrounding communities and Westchester Emergency Medical Services to help out during the week.
“Basically, we went to the Town Board and said, we need help,” Hlushko said. “We don’t have enough volunteers and the volunteers who are active are being run into the ground.”
Further slowing down the corps, one of NSVAC’s two ambulances was totaled during a crash on Sunday, June 17. Two paid crew members were doing “road familiarization” when the ambulance collided with a black sedan and overturned, Hlushko said. The ambulance was not responding to a call and there were no patients in the ambulance when the crash occurred. The NSVAC crew members and the driver of the sedan were not injured, Hlushko said.
“The patient compartment is totaled,” Hlushko said. “It was not old–3.5 years.”
On average, a new ambulance takes about six months to get and NSVAC first has to go through insurance to get the money to pay for it.
“It’s not like you go to an ambulance dealership and walk out with an ambulance,” Hlushko said.
Complicating matters, the Lewisboro Volunteer Ambulance Corps is also short an ambulance. Hlushko said North Salem depends on Lewisboro and vice versa.
“We had an electrical failure,” said Dan Murtha, captain of the Lewisboro Volunteer Ambulance Corps. “The ambulance was reaching the end of its life cycle anyway, so we had to do a repair versus replace, and we chose replace.”
The way the dispatch system works, Hlushka explained, is that the 911 dispatcher will first reach to the local departments before it goes to the county.
So with both North Salem and Lewisboro down to one ambulance a piece, the whole system is stressed.
Still, both Hlushka and Murtha said the bigger problem for their departments is lack of volunteers.
In December, the North Salem Town Board approved a $9.4 million budget that included $21,500 more than planned for the NSVAC, because of its volunteer shortage and overworked members.
The board’s tentative budget for 2018 had included an allotment of $79,000 for the organization, a $5,000 increase from 2017.
But Kurt Guldan, the corps’ president, argued it needed more.
Guldan asked the town to add an amount equal to 12 hours’ pay to secure more coverage on weekends. He estimated the cost at almost $30,000.
The board was hesitant because it was unsure how the extra funding could be covered. Ultimately, after brainstorming, the board was able to allot the corps funding for eight paid hours.
The extra money allowed the NSVAC eight more hours from its paid staff on the weekend.
Both Hlushka and Murtha said the shortage in volunteers is because people don’t have as much free time as year’s past.
“Some of the things that have changed in society of the last few decades is the transition from a stay-at-home parent or a single-income family to both parents are at work and need both incomes to sustain residency in Westchester County,” Murtha said. “There’s less availability of people during the work day who can volunteer a big chunk of their time with the ambulance corps or fire.”
Lewisboro does about 500 calls a year while North Salem does about 400 calls a year.
For North Salem, a volunteer driver or EMT must first become certified and then commit to six hours a week plus two monthly meetings and ongoing training.
“It’s hard to get somebody to commit to a number of hours with so many people being double income families now,” Hlushka said.
Lewisboro is one of the last remaining all-volunteer corps in the county, Murtha said. The organization relies on donations, not tax payer money, to sustain itself.
North Salem and Lewisboro both expect to have new ambulances ready to go around January, though Hlushka stressed that a new ambulance is only good if you have people to staff it.
“The bottom line is we don’t have enough volunteers,” Hlushko said. “If they call 911 and it takes a long time to get the ambulance there, then they’ll realize there’s a problem.”