NOVEMBER 18TH, BROOKLYN — A crew from the Park Slope Volunteer Ambulance Corps, based about 2.5 miles from an accident in Sunset Park, arrived first on scene at 44th Street and 5th Avenue at around 7:40 PM Wednesday night, beating out a “voluntary” ambulance from Maimonides Medical Center. An FDNY EMS ambulance, also en route, was canceled by police, according to EMS sources. The first arriving ambulance generally transports the patient.
The patient, a middle-aged man, was taken to Lutheran Medical Center. Park Slope VAC Chief of Operations Dale Garcia, who was on the call, would not comment on his condition. He was sprawled on the street near the Dominican Car Service. The PS VAC medics immobilized him using a cervical collar and backboard. Police on scene assisted, as did the crew from Maimonides Medical Center, based in nearby Borough Park.
The Park Slope VAC does several thousand calls a year, resulting in about 500 patient transports, according to their website. While a FDNY EMS Paramedic earns about $60,000 a year, Garcia is not paid for his ambulance duty at PSVAC. His paying job is with a private EMS provider.
Volunteerism is alive and well in EMS, reflecting a sentiment once found scrawled on an EMS locker at Metropolitan Hospital: “I like this job so much, I’d do it for free. Unfortunately, they know that.”
The EMS Union, Local 2507 of District Council 37, generally ignores what might be considered volunteer ambulance companies’ incursions into their territory, training their fire instead on private hospitals like Maimonides which they accuse of steering paying patients back to their own institutions. The indigent, the Union has claimed, often get brought to City hospitals. There are nine volunteer fire companies in New York City, but they do a small volume of calls, on par with volunteer EMS outfits, and are tolerated by the FDNY. There are no volunteer armed police.
While private, hospital-based ambulances account for about half of Advanced Life Support 911 calls (with FDNY EMS accounting for the other half), the Volunteers like PS VAC do only a relative handful of 911 jobs, and often don’t bill for the service.
How the volunteers get the EMS calls is a matter of some contention. They have emergency numbers but most people don’t know them by heart and call 911 instead. Volunteer ambulances can be dispatched within the EMS 911 system as part of the Mutual Aid Response System (MARS), but this is relatively rare. Volunteers have been known to “buff” EMS 911 calls by listening for them on NYPD frequencies and then rolling. Garcia said that the PSVAC didn’t do this on the Sunset Park call, instead receiving a call informing them of a man down. In any case, it’s hard to argue with crews who want to help, and don’t mind doing it for free.