Firefighters packed last Wednesday’s Saugerties Town Board meeting urging Town officials of a dire need to invest in another ambulance and increase salaries for Diaz Ambulance paramedics, as the demand for emergency medical services has skyrocketed in recent years.
Glasco Fire Department Assistant Chief Ray Mayone Jr, who’s also served as a paramedic at Diaz since 2007, said during the course of his time at the ambulance service the number of annual calls has gone from 1,200 to 3,000. This outstrips Diaz’s capacity, forcing volunteer fire departments to try to fill in when they can.
“Diaz has two paramedic crews 24 hours, seven days a week. But there can be a third call when both crews are out on other calls,” Mayone explained.
When asked by the Town Board how many medical calls Glasco firefighters respond to, Mayone said it was about 15 last month, while the department dealt with seven medical calls last weekend alone.
Mayone, who works full-time at HealthAlliance in Kingston, said he’s seen first-hand situations where the hospital has had to turn to ambulances as far away as Westchester County for patient transports because local agencies like Mobile Life Support Services were so busy they couldn’t respond to such calls. Firefighters said whenever an ambulance has to go to another town, like a Woodstock ambulance having to respond to a call in Saugerties, that community is left with longer response times.
And Mayone expects the Town will only get busier, pointing to a proposed massive 800-acre mixed-use industrial, recreational and residential development that was unveiled to the public earlier during the meeting.
“The fire districts in the Town are volunteers trying their best to plug the hole,” he said. And that lengthens response times to up to 30-40 minutes for someone in the Centerville-Cedar Grove Fire District to get to the hospital in Kingston. He noted that calls in Saxton can be even longer than that. “There are times where we waited over an hour for an ambulance to come from Hyde Park.”
Mayone said regulations also prohibit volunteer fire departments from serving as paramedics and that includes himself, even if he works for Diaz and the hospital.
Town Supervisor Fred Costello praised first responders and noted the unique relationship the Town has with its ambulance, a level of service he said is not available in a lot of other towns.
He reassured firefighters the needs of Diaz will be part of the board’s discussion as they draft the budget for 2022. “Diaz has done a great job of explaining what they do, and there are equity adjustments that need to be made so they can maintain staff and for a third car.”
Town Board member Leeanne Thornton said she was embarrassed to hear Mayone tell them at a previous meeting that the pay rate for Diaz paramedic was less than hourly rate of a high starting at McDonald’s. “How can Saugerties be competitive for social services?” she questioned.
Firefighters pleaded with Town officials to remember dollars and cents and not percentages as they go through the budget process. Firefighters said percentages tend to create more of a nervous reaction among taxpayers who think their taxes are going up by 15 percent, when in actuality, it’s 15 percent of a $60 special district tax.
“That dollar cost is a pizza and two large sodas per taxpayer unit,” Thornton said, lending support to the first responders.