On a busy summer’s day, our local ambulance squads respond to an ever-increasing number of calls. Some of the emergencies they rush to are just that — matters of life and death. Other calls are less urgent, but the responders treat everyone with the utmost care. These volunteers are exemplary citizens, each having undergone dozens, if not hundreds, of hours’ training and refresher courses, as well as having devoted long periods of time to taking care of gear and answering calls.
To meet the demands of summer, emergency service providers on the South Fork are increasingly looking toward supplementing to some degree their ambulance companies with paid staff. Though there has been traditional resistance from among the otherwise all-volunteer fire departments, to which ambulance squads belong, the writing appears to be on the wall that more help is needed. The Montauk department has for the first time taken on paid paramedics; Southampton did so some time ago. Other fire districts are relying on the system of mutual aid, in which a department unable to raise a crew calls on its neighbors.
This system is not flawless. Patients may have to endure long waits for transportation to Southampton Hospital when their home district’s ambulances are out on other calls. Police are generally first on the scene and can provide oxygen and automatic emergency defibrillators, but there is no substitute for trained medical help and hospitalization within short order when required. Acknowledging that traditions can be hard to change, it is important that the fire districts and ambulance personnel take a dispassionate look at response times and consider whether the time has come for some full-time paid assistance.
Residents and visitors can help in several ways as well. One is to avoid calling 911 for nonemergency injuries and ailments that could be treated in one of the area’s walk-in clinics. Landlords who rent to people from away should be sure to explain this to their tenants and provide the addresses and phone numbers of places to go for immediate care. On the roads, drivers must pay attention to the lights and sirens as ambulances approach, pulling to the shoulder in both directions to help them pass. Drivers should also be aware that the flashing green or blue lights on private vehicles indicate a volunteer on his or her way to an emergency, and get out of the way.
Lastly, bicyclists could be a little smarter by always wearing a helmet, swimmers could limit themselves to where a lifeguard is on duty and avoid diving head-first into unknown waters. And all of us can try to eat right and exercise more to stay fit. Help, especially in the summer, can be a long time away, so everything you can do keep safe and help ambulanced crews on their way is welcome.