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Genesee County’s volunteer firefighter shortage has “taken a second fiddle” to the ongoing EMS crisis, county officials were told during a Committee of the Whole meeting Wednesday.
“EMS transporting capabilities are diminished with lengthy response times and really bad stories going on across the state and within our region,” county EMS Coordinator Timothy Yaeger said. “I know some counties are looking at municipal ambulance service, all kinds of options as to how we can right the ship.”
Yaeger said he needs to immediately find a way “to ensure we have ambulances available for the citizens of this county.”
He said one recent change came with Mercy EMS. In the past, it was required that Mercy EMS have one ambulance in service in the county before it would honor an out-of-county ambulance request. Now, he said, that policy has changed to two ambulances, with the exception of mass casualty events.
Without a Mercy EMS service, ambulance needs fall back on volunteer fire departments, which also are suffering a staffing crisis, he said.
“The volunteer service is struggling to answer calls and to be a reliable transport,” he said. “There’s many times they don’t answer calls at all and we end up relying on one or two ambulance services to pick up slack.”
Yaeger said the new policy has so far worked well.
“It may not make the other counties happy but we have to protect our citizens at all costs,” he said.
Yaeger and other EMS officials have been continually meeting in an effort to not only solve staffing crisis short term, but long-term.
“The next step is how do we step up and stand up our system until we find a long-term solution to the EMS, commercial-based difficulty and that was to look at how we handle 941 (mental health) transports,” he said.
Other counties use police to transport mental health patients that are not in medical need, which frees ambulances for emergency calls.
County Manager Matt Landers said he and other county officials, along with Yaeger, have been looking at the possibility of having police agencies transport people with mental health issues, instead of tying up ambulances.
Yaeger said Le Roy Ambulance and Mercy EMS are “doing a fantastic job but they are stressed beyond belief, especially during these COVID times, and the staffing levels are not anywhere near where they need to be and I get notified every time there is a double zero, and that means there are no ambulances in this county and that’s not a good feeling for me. It never is. I get those notifications 24/7 so I know when there is no ambulances available and we need to make those notifications go away.
“There needs to be an EMS system in this county functioning 24/7.”