Southampton Volunteer Ambulance personnel, EMTs, hospital workers, crew chiefs, and even the organization’s founder showed up to support an increase in its budget during a town board meeting October 23.
The increase for Southampton ambulance includes a $200,000 spending increase for training and programs, medical services for full-time staff, and $2 million for a new building, the latter of which brought some criticism by residents.
“Almost half the time the Southampton Volunteer Ambulance does not have appropriate response times,” said Water Mill resident Judy Poznik. She compared the number of “signal 3” calls in 2013 with those of 2018. A “signal 3” call is one in which the original dispatch attempt is unsuccessful after two minutes, resulting in nearby crews being called in for backup.
“In 2013, there were 423 calls, with 139 requiring signal 3s, which is 33 percent of the time not having appropriate response times. In 2018, there were 415 calls, slightly less, with 183 calls requiring signal 3s, which is 45 percent of the time. Volunteer members have not dramatically increased in the past 20 years. And a new building will not remedy poor response times, because a building does not respond to emergencies,” said Poznik.
But those who came out in support said they believe a new building could actually help solve the problem, using the building as a way to draw more people in, and host various training lessons, like CPR, which could lead to potential recruitment interest.
“Being a volunteer is very different now from how it was 15 years ago,” said Zaneta Libuda, a 15-year volunteer paramedic with SVA, who is also an ex-second-assistant chief and certified CPR instructor. “Requirements and performance standards are much higher and harder than they used to be. People have to work two jobs. We could offer outreach, but for this, we need appropriate training facilities. Every time we can’t host a training session, we miss an opportunity to spread our volunteerism outreach.”
Joe Louchheim, treasurer for SVA, said the district’s request for funding, while increased, was still half that of what other districts receive.
“Considering the size of our geographic area and the number of calls we make, it’s still a pretty good bargain,” he said. “The days where an ambulance company can be staffed with friendly volunteers who pick you up from your house and drive you to the hospital are long gone. We have to adapt and make adjustments, and the supervisor’s budget allows us to do that.”
Poznik said she met with Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman and that he said the town wants “a consistency” between buildings.
“What does this mean? Square footage? Number of ambulances? Lot size? Refrigerators? Toilets? Sofas? Chairs?” she asked. “The current building is adequate. It houses ambulances; includes an extra bay; has space for equipment, supplies, meetings, and training; is air conditioned; has a kitchen; two half baths, at least one sofa, one lounge chair, and it also has a desk as well as numerous chairs. If a shiny building with amenities of a new home increases volunteers, rather than volunteers desire to serve the medical emergency needs of the community, I call this a problem.”
Thirteen-year EMT and driver Donna Krembourg called the 30-year-old building outdated. Louchheim said providing more funding is the least the community can do for a group of volunteers who work days, nights, weekends, and holidays. Seven-year EMT Adele Kristiansson said she’s answered nearly 900 calls during her tenure, contributing about 1200 hours a year.
East Quogue resident Brian Babcock agreed. The former chief and board member of Hampton Bays Volunteer Ambulance Corps said he’s seen firsthand what a new building can do. He joined the ambulance corps back in 1997, and helped with the proposal brought to the town for a new building, which was approved.
“Hampton Bays ambulance [welcomed] 30-100 recruits after receiving its new building,” he said. “We’ve even established a juniors committee. They love to see our building; it’s great. We have a great kitchen, a meeting room, a couch, people love to come in and see it. It’s great. These people are heroes. Give them whatever they want.”
The meeting on the topic was adjourned, citing the need for two public hearings on budget-related topics. The conversation will pick back up November 13 at 1 PM.