By Jano Tantongco
The Huntington Community First Aid Squad has recently hired paid paramedics who will support emergency response operations. The hires were suggested in a study of HCFAS that was commissioned by the Town of Huntington and recommended that the formerly-all-volunteer squad hire paid staff, among other suggestions.
John Palmieri, president of the HCFAS board of directors, said four part-time paramedics have been hired so far, with one more soon to come. They’re paid at a rate of $25 an hour, he said.
The hires, he added, will “allow the squad to reach every call faster.”
Faster response times were part a mandate in the 2016 contract between the town and HCFAS. We’re “required to show up to calls at certain time frames,” Palmieri said.
Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone called the hires a “good move forward.”
“I think we’re on the right track here together and we’re continuing to work with them,” he said. “Hopefully this will make a difference, not only for people that need their services at various times, but also the volunteers. It takes some of the pressure off them when you have fewer volunteers.”
Petrone added that the hires will also reduce costs for departments that have provided mutual aid assistance to the HCFAS in the past.
When the squad does not have the resources to respond to a call, that call is then sent to a neighboring district. Out of over 6,000 calls last year, Palmieri said, the squad deferred 60 calls.
The paid paramedics will make use of the squad’s three fly cars, which is a vehicle akin to an SUV that has all the equipment necessary to provide Advanced Life Support, but does not carry patients, Palmieri said.
Responding paramedics will arrive on scene to essentially triage a situation, he added. If the paramedic determines the situation requires ALS, he or she will stay on site and begin treatment immediately, with the ambulance following shortly after.
In the case of a Basic Life Support call, the paramedic would confer with the ambulance crew and provide support, but would soon get ready for another call.
“We’re trying to cover 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Palmieri said.
Currently, he added, HCFAS doesn’t have enough people to do that, but it plans to hire more help, ultimately targeting 8-10 paid paramedics. The squad also plans to acquire its seventh ambulance next week, he said.
“We’re trying to do it with our volunteers, but we just couldn’t get to them all,” he said. “Hopefully having paid medics on will get to even more calls faster.”
Palmieri said that the squad also plans to soon start billing insurance providers for ambulance trips. The squad opted to make that change, he said, due to the reduction in funding that the squad received from the town in its 2016 budget. Huntington allotted $1.58 million for HCFAS, $194,901 less than last year.
When the reduction in funding was made, town officials suggested that the squad employ a medical billing program, or dip into reserve funds.