Emergency medical calls keep Lancaster, Orchard Park busy

Towns use a combination of paid and volunteer staff

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Lately, we’ve been hearing a lot about ambulance response times in the city of buffalo.

But what about the suburbs?

Places like Lancaster and Orchard Park are handling their own emergency medical calls — and that includes transporting patients to the hospital.

And while they don’t see the call volume that Buffalo does — suburban first responders say their system of using paid and volunteer staff is working — and resulting in good response times.

“We now take 5,000 – 6,000 calls a year. We have 40 employees. We’re running four ambulances 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All paramedic level. And we still wind up with five calls at one time,” said Jeff Bono, vice president of Lancaster Volunteer Ambulance Corps.

In Erie County, there are multiple agencies that provide advanced life support and hospital transports.

And when it comes to providing emergency medical care — whether it’s Buffalo or surrounding suburbs — the goal is the same.

“We’re here to save lives,” Bono said. “It’s just so busy.”

Bono says Lancaster Ambulance, a not-for-profit EMS operation, was started 63 years ago because of response time issues.

Using paid and volunteer staff, with an average response time of 7 minutes or less, EMS crews cover the town and village of Lancaster, and the village of Depew.

“The annual budget for Lancaster ambulance is $1.8 million. We take in about $80,000 a year from donations. We get absolutely nothing from the town or any municipality. We’re completely independent,” Bono said.

Orchard Park decided to get into the EMS business in 2009 because of increased call volume, training demands and a decline in volunteer membership.

Orchard Park Fire District EMS, also a not-for-profit, initially averaged about 1,500 to 1,600 calls a year.

But according to General Manager Anthony Balester, the volume has grown to about 3,400 calls a year.

He says the average response time is about 4 minutes.

“As crazy as it gets on some days we’ve been very fortunate that we’ve been able to handle everything. And if it wasn’t for the volunteer side being involved there’s no way we would have been able to handle everything,” Balester said.

He added: “Our response time [has] got to be in the top 5 in the country. It’s just working fantastic and we’re not a burden on the taxpayers.”

Orchard Park Fire District EMS works in conjunction with the town’s volunteer fire companies providing paramedic level care.

“The volunteer fire company brings the ambulance to us at the very least, and then we’re able to take care of the patients and proceed to the hospital as needed,” said Operations Manager Tim Benstead. “By doing it this way we’re able to charge the insurance companies for the bills, for the transports that are being provided and get reimbursement that way.”

Faced with a choice of either contracting with an outside EMS provider or become a paid service, they choose to do it on their own.

Operational costs for things like ambulance rigs, staff and equipment are over a $1 million a year.

“We’re doing well enough to make sure that our employees are paid, that our billing is taken care of, and that our trucks are being maintained and we have the best equipment that we can possibly have,” Benstead says.

While Jeff Bono of Lancaster Ambulance is very pleased with the level of care his operation provides residents, he thinks the EMS system across Erie County could use some updating.

“We’re all here to do the same thing which is save lives,” he said. “It’s not about jurisdiction. It’s not about who’s care area you should be covering.”

He added: “It’s not the best way to do it. But you have different fractured entities that are in charge.”

Bono, citing other EMS models across the country like Los Angeles, says rather than multiple dispatching points across the county, there ought to be one dispatching center.

“There’s a need for it, and there’s an appetite for it,” he explained.

He says providing coverage when an area has no ambulances available during peak periods would be completely separate from existing mutual aid agreements.

“When something comes up where LVAC doesn’t have anything available, then they would say Rural Metro you need to move an ambulance into Lancaster. That would be a perfect system.”

In other words, one dispatching center for providers big and small, paid or volunteer, that are able to respond and move around assets when needed.

“It needs to happen yesterday, but I don’t see it happening anytime in the near future because people have their own piece of the pie and they don’t want to give it up. They want to have the control over it,” Bono said.

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