In an Emergency, How Long Is Too Long?

    An incident last week outside the East Hampton Post Office calls into question the response time of village emergency personnel, J.B. DosSantos, a member of the East Hampton-Sag Harbor Citizens Advisory Committee, said at an East Hampton Village Board meeting on Friday.
    At about 1:15 p.m. on Jan. 16, “a 97-year-old gentleman was walking toward the post office when he tripped and fell face down. Myself and a number of other residents rushed to help him. Someone called the ambulance, and it took about 25 minutes for the arrival,” Mr. DosSantos told the board near the end of its meeting.
    The man was bleeding from a laceration on his head, Mr. DosSantos, a former volunteer firefighter, told the board. “It was really sad to see a 97-year-old gentleman laying on the cold concrete or cement. I think we need to do something. Had it been a heart attack, he would be gone,” he said.
    Two police officers were on the scene within 10 minutes, Mr. DosSantos said, but could only provide a blanket to cover the man until the ambulance arrived.
    “You’re alleging a 25-minute time frame for an ambulance response. That’s totally unacceptable,” said Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr., “but there may be circumstances that none of us know at this point. I know the ambulance corps is of the mindset to try to get to the incident location as quickly as possible.”
    The ambulance response time was in fact 21 minutes, Gerard Larsen, chief of the East Hampton Village Police Department, said yesterday, and police were on the scene in less than two minutes. It was neither necessary nor practical for them to give the man oxygen, he said.
    The chief did acknowledge an ongoing problem with regard to response time, however. “We definitely noticed that it was a huge problem this summer, where we had to mutual-aid many calls,” meaning send out a call to outside jurisdictions. “It may be time to look to a solution,” he said, perhaps one involving a salaried staff in addition to volunteers.
    When a 911 call is received, he said, a set of tones is sent to volunteers’ pagers and dispatchers wait 2 minutes for a response. If there is none, the tones are repeated. “Depending on the nature of the call, it would stop after that and we would then mutual-aid to another department. If we can’t get an ambulance in East Hampton, we start with the closest jurisdiction.” In this case, an ambulance from the Springs Fire Department answered the call.
    Long response times, the chief said, occur during the day, when most volunteers are working. “At night we’re not having these issues, because they have people on call, ready to go.”
    Barbara Borsack, the deputy mayor and a longtime ambulance volunteer, agreed that volunteer emergency personnel are overwhelmed in the summer. “Right now there’s a lot of fact finding, to try to see what other, similar communities, like Cape Cod, are doing and how they’re handling it,” she said. “Some have a hybrid system where they have a paid person on staff and volunteers. There are discussions ongoing. It’s not something we haven’t been talking about.”
    “We are looking at it internally,” Mayor Rickenbach said yesterday. “We’ve got to make it better than it is. All options are on the table.” Although the new paid ambulance staff have not been budgeted for, he said, “sometimes government has to respond to the moment, and this deals with public safety and the response to medical necessity. We will do whatever is appropriate.”