Aug. 18, 2006
Legislature Transfers EMS Coordination to Emergency Management Office
Oswego County's emergency medical service (EMS) providers answer about 10,000 calls for assistance a year. Some are volunteers and others are paid members of an ambulance corps. They all provide a vital service to our community. We rely on them to be the first on the scene when there's an accident or medical emergency, but all too often we take their service for granted. I am extremely appreciative of our EMS members for the vital and life-saving care they provide in our community.
The County Legislature took steps this month to strengthen our EMS program by transferring the coordination of training and education to the county agency that handles emergency planning activities - the Emergency Management Office.
The move is logical, said Legislator Tom Bullard of Scriba, chairman of the Legislature's Public Safety and Emergency Services Committee, because it brings the EMS response and training functions under the same agency.
The EMS program has been a responsibility of the county Health Department for more than 20 years, but has been without a full-time coordinator since 2001. The staff from the health department's nursing division has done an admirable job of coordinating the training classes, and we appreciate the resources and expertise that they have put into the program.
But the demands on our emergency medical personnel are high, and many issues have evolved over the past several years.
In addition to the stress associated with providing emergency medical care to trauma victims and people in medical emergencies, there are rigorous and time-consuming training requirements. It takes up to six months of classes to become certified as a basic EMT, and several more months of study to pass the basic refresher class to remain certified.
Many of the corps are staffed by unpaid volunteers who devote countless hours of time to serve their communities. There is no formal coordination of service providers on the county level beyond training and certification. The number of certified EMS personnel is dropping, and sparsely populated rural areas may see a reduction in services if this trend continues.
These issues aren't unique to Oswego County. Many other counties around the state have already transitioned their EMS programs into their county emergency management agencies. Our Emergency Management Office already coordinates emergency planning efforts and helps agencies become compliant in federal and state incident management requirements.
The department works with business and industries, volunteers, professional emergency medical corps, and government officials at all levels to oversee and coordinate emergency response functions. The two departments, Health and Emergency Management, have developed a strong working relationship, especially over the recent post 9-11 years. This will be a seamless transition.
No one will lose their job, and no additional staff is required at this time. The EMS program will be grouped in a department that can facilitate communication and training opportunities with other agencies that share their mission. Goals will include broader recruitment, improved visibility, and stronger collaboration with other emergency agencies. The Emergency Management Office will receive some state reimbursement for coordinating the training services via a memorandum of understanding with the Health Department.
The two department heads involved in this project, Public Health Director Kathleen Smith and Emergency Management Director Patricia Egan, spent many months developing procedures to make sure there is continuity for this important function I would like to thank them and the committee chairmen, legislators Tom Bullard and John Proud, and their colleagues on the Public Safety and Emergency Services and the Health and Human Services committees: Barbara Brown, Daniel Chalifoux, Arthur Gearsbeck, Leonard Ponzi, Paul Santore, Kim Seager, Clayton Brewer, James Bryant, and Milferd Potter for their work on this project.
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