Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

October 20, 2013

Split coverage

Whatever the fate of South Lockport's EMS, the public will be covered, officials say

BY JOE OLENICK joe.olenick@lockportjournal.com
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — About 75 percent of the calls that South Lockport Volunteer Fire Co. receives concern medical emergencies, typically automobile accidents. That works out to a conservative average of about 825 EMS calls a year.

As South Lockport reviews its long-term plans for its emergency medical services, the fire company says Lockport town residents won’t be without EMS coverage. Declining enrollment of volunteer Emergency Medical Technicians with the company over the years has prompted an in-depth look at its ability to continue offering the service.

“The public should know that providing quality emergency service is the highest priority for South Lockport and we will continue to adhere to the quality and standards you have always expected and received,” South Lockport President Peter Smith said in a statement last week. “(The review) does not mean the South Lockport Fire Co. is not going to respond to the community’s calls. We will continue to respond to all emergency calls within our response area in the Town of Lockport,” with help from other fire companies as needed.

Running an emergency medical service is a time-intensive and expensive endeavor for a fire company. So a shortage of emergency medical technicians, as well as increased regulatory and training requirements for volunteers, make maintaining an EMS more challenging.

The amount of training required to become a EMT and retain that certification is intense, said Benjamin J. Ripson, South Lockport’s third assistant fire chief and chairman of the EMS committee.

EMT regulations, set by the New York State Department of Health, must be followed by all EMS agencies regardless whether they are career (paid professionals) or volunteer.

The South Lockport membership would have the final say on any change to the fire company’s EMS, Ripson said. If a worst case scenario occurred and South Lockport cut emergency medical service altogether, there are other agencies in the area that could step up to the plate to provide the service.

Discussions have taken place between South Lockport company leaders, town and Niagara County Emergency Services officials concerning the possible change. Lockport Town Supervisor Marc R. Smith confirmed town officials have met with officers of all five fire companies that service a portion of the town. In addition to South Lockport, those companies are the Wrights Corners, Terry’s Corners, Rapids and Gasport volunteer outfits.

If South Lockport no longer offers EMS, the town could have the other four companies increase their coverage or, possibly, bring in a third-party EMS provider, Smith said. Everyone is aware South Lockport is stretched thin, he added.

It’s even possible that Lockport city firefighters could be involved. Lockport City Mayor Michael Tucker confirmed last week that the city has had preliminary talks with the town about city firefighters providing EMS to town residents. However, the city is facing financial struggles and the likelihood of laying off some employees including firefighters by Jan. 1.

“We still have to work it out,” Tucker said. “But it may be a possibility.”

Smith said town officials are waiting to hear back from the fire companies and the county emergency service regarding alternatives to South Lockport EMS.

“We’re taking a look at this, as stewards of the public’s well-being,” Smith said. “There are options.”

Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241, or follow him on Twitter @joeolenick.