With the roads clogged with summer traffic lengthening the trip from East Hampton to Southampton Hospital, emergency responders in East Hampton Town are working together to develop a public awareness campaign encouraging drivers to move over for emergency vehicles.
The time it takes to get a patient in need of immediate medical attention to the hospital “can make the difference in care, treatment, and outcome,” Florence Stone, the East Hampton Ambulance Association’s public relations representative and an emergency medical technician, said Tuesday.
When cars fail to pull over for emergency vehicles, “all those little seconds, minutes, add up,” she said.
Drivers should also make way for emergency responders, here all volunteers, on their way in their own vehicles to respond to calls for help, she said. Unlike ambulances, which have sirens, those individual E.M.T.s, firefighters, or ambulance drivers have only flashing lights — green for members of the ambulance corps, and blue for fire department volunteers.
Lona Rubenstein, an East Hampton author and public relations professional, developed a program called POEMS — Pull Over for Emergency Services — some time ago and had presented it to the East Hampton Town Board. Ms. Rubenstein offered her time and expertise to help get it off the ground. She has developed a list of strategies for data collection regarding emergency vehicle delays, educational outreach, possible legislative action, and coordination among various community and professional groups.
Recently, Councilwoman Theresa Quigley referred her to Ms. Stone. Mary Ellen McGuire, the ambulance association chief, had already asked about mounting a public awareness campaign, Ms. Stone said, and Ms. Rubenstein presented her ideas at the June meeting of the group, with East Hampton Fire and Town Police Department representatives in attendance. The idea is also being presented at a chiefs association meeting to members of various fire departments and ambulance squads.
Ms. Stone said the various entities are working together to lay out a plan. Ideas include a poster contest for schoolchildren, perhaps during an emergency services week in the fall.
“We’re finding it’s becoming a problem,” she said of drivers not moving aside when necessary. “It’s slowing down our response time.”
The average round-trip call, taking someone from East Hampton to Southampton Hospital, then coming back, can take approximately two hours, start to finish, in the off-season, Ms. Stone said. In the summer, “it’s more like three hours,” she said.
And calls for help are increasing. Last year, the ambulance association responded to about 1,300 calls throughout the year — “and a good chunk of that is in the summer,” Ms. Stone said.
During Monday alone, in the village there were seven calls to which volunteer E.M.T.s responded. Four came within a 15-minute time frame, Ms. Stone said. With only three ambulances, the association called on its Montauk counterparts for help.
The POEMS campaign has the support of the town board, as well as East Hampton Town Police Chief Eddie Ecker Jr., Ms. Stone said, and others are getting on board.