Evaluating EMS dispatching across Erie County

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Is there a better way to dispatch emergency medical calls and ambulance transports in Erie County?

Jeff Bono, vice president of Lancaster Volunteer Ambulance Corps, says yes.

“In a perfect world you’d have one dispatching center for all of Erie County,” said Bono.

And while Bono believes there’s a better way to handle things, he knows it won’t be easy.

“I don’t know if the city of Buffalo wants to turn over everything to one county EMS or one county dispatching system. I don’t think Lancaster would want that. I don’t think Amherst would like that. But it’s something that needs to be done, he said.

Bono envisions a county-wide dispatch center that could track where every ambulance is at all times, and then move assets where needed, regardless of jurisdiction.

“We’d all report and say how many rigs we have available. We would keep them up to date periodically through the day of where we are,” he said. “That would be completely different from the mutual aid system.”

“It is 2016 and maybe the whole system needs to be re-evaluated,” said Daniel Neaverth, Jr., commissioner of Erie County Emergency Services.

He says to make it work there needs to be a collaborative effort involving agreements in writing among the different agencies, and transparency.

“You have to have the collective will of all of the towns, villages and cities to be able to that,” said Neaverth. “If you have the abilities to be able to take a look at that, and you already have those existing relationships, and you’ve worked through that with the state to say okay, an ambulance company from another town has the ability to be able to cover that. But you need to be able to walk first.”

Republican Erie County lawmaker Edward Rath III, who chairs the Legislature’s Public Safety Committee, says he’s open to having those discussions.

“If there are alternatives where we can look at the county taking the lead; collaborating with our towns and villages and our city, we’re going to look into that,” Rath said. “Right now the reliability, the dispatch system is not being optimized, and it’s not working at 100 percent, and the residents of Erie County are concerned.”

Neaverth believes figuring out the best way to coordinate the number of ambulances in a region is more important than who’s actual running the system.

“There’s really no reason why at any given time dispatch centers don’t know where every ambulance is within the county or even outside of the county,” he said. “We have GPS locaters, but agency to agency you don’t have visibility. If it’s a private company or it’s an actual ambulance that’s assigned to a volunteer agency. We don’t necessarily have that visibility.”

For Jeff Bono, saving lives is the bottom-line, even if it means working outside of your primary jurisdiction.

“In Erie County change is very difficult. They don’t like change. But the EMS system here has to change,” Bono said. “It needs to happen yesterday.”

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