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Talk is good as Millbrook looks for EMS solutions

Ever an issue in the Hudson Valley, and really, in small communities around the country, providing Emergency Medical Services (EMS) is getting harder and harder.

Take the village of Millbrook and the town of Washington, for example. That community is struggling for a solution to its volunteer crisis. As with so many departments in the area, the number of willing and able men and women to volunteer for EMS is dwindling. The need to work more hours, often farther away, takes volunteers out of the area for longer. The population is aging, meaning there is a smaller pool of capable volunteers to man those firetrucks and ambulances. On top of that, the younger population often moves away from home, to go to college, join the military or start a career. And then there’s the expense of training and the investment of time it takes. What it all boils down to is fewer volunteers — and that puts stress on volunteer departments hoping to serve local residents.

In Millbrook, stakeholders in this issue recently held a meeting at the firehouse, on Monday, April 7. Nearly 60 attended to talk about the community’s needs and how best to address them.

Raised as issues of concern: response time, volunteer availability and department growth. 

As far as response time, the town and village use a paid service from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m., with volunteers taking over weekday nights. Then, on weekends, the service is volunteer unless extra service is needed, when paid services will step up to the plate. With paid services, there’s a paramedic, an ambulance and a driver. If, though, a paid unit is on call and another call comes through, the caller will have to wait for volunteer service or for mutual aid from nearby communities.

It’s not a perfect system, but it has been sufficient. The question is, does it remain so? 

There’s no doubt that greater EMS coverage is wanted to better respond to local emergencies. And Millbrook seems to want to maintain its volunteer rescue squad. We understand why. Local volunteers have a stake in their town and village. They know the community and its residents. They take pride in their work and enjoy the camaraderie. And their service is invaluable — just like other volunteer departments throughout the Harlem Valley.

Town and village leaders have said they want to protect the existing EMS. We get that. But it needs to be supplemented, and we’re glad to see open and honest dialogue taking place to come to a consensus on the best approach. Paid service will cost taxpayers more money. But there’s a cost to not having adequate coverage that residents also shoulder — not the least of which could be human life in the worst case scenario.

At last week’s meeting there was talk of incentives. Already, the Millbrook department has the Length of Service Awards Program (LOSAP) in place, which is like a pension program but helps emergency service organizations. An increase to LOSAP was recently approved that allows for volunteers to accrue hours to be evaluated and converted into retirement funds.

Another possible incentive discussed included paying college tuition for young recruits. That would certainly appeal to some, but how financially feasible is it?

The problem is real. The solution, difficult. But by joining forces, the town, village and fire department can hopefully come up with a sensible solution worthy of those who call Millbrook home. For that, more discussion may be merited — an open mind most definitely is. 

If the county comes through with its shared services solution, that would likely alleviate the pressure. Let’s hope that’s on the horizon, because it’s about time all Dutchess County residents are guaranteed fast and reliable EMS coverage at a reasonable cost. And time is of the essence, because this is, at the base level, a life-or-death matter.