Cherry Grove upgrades emergency medical services, an 'asset' to Fire Island hamlet

Cherry Grove has a new emergency response system.

Cherry Grove has a new emergency response system. Left to right are Ken Osman, Cherry Grove's EMS committee chairman, Chris Gonzales, chief of the community ambulance company, paramedic Robert Dean (in green shirt), Stephanie Golub, second assistant chief, and James MacDonell, first assistant chief. (Credit: John Roca)

Residents and visitors in Cherry Grove say they can relax a little more this summer thanks to improved emergency medical services in the Fire Island community.

For the first time, the popular beach town has paramedics available 24 hours a day to respond to accidents and emergencies. The round-the-clock presence of emergency medical technicians from a mainland ambulance corps has drastically reduced response times, community leaders said.

In previous summers, it was up to Suffolk County police to respond to emergency calls. But police did not have a full-time presence in the Grove and often had to respond from other parts of Fire Island, said Diane Romano, president of the Cherry Grove Community Association. She said the typical response time was about 15 minutes.

Cherry Grove leaders said they sought a change after a resident died last year from a heart attack while waiting about 45 minutes for help to arrive.

The hamlet's Emergency Medical Services committee enlisted Community Ambulance Company of Sayville to supply paramedics during the summer months through mid-September. Response times have been cut by more than half -- to less than 3 minutes in July.

"They're there very quick," Romano said. "For the first time in Cherry Grove, I would say we have great medical coverage . . . as good as anywhere else you may live, which really gives a feeling of comfort."

Residents of Cherry Grove -- whose year-round population of less than 20 swells to about 1,500 in the summer and up to 10,000 for special events -- raised about $85,000 to upgrade the hamlet's emergency medical services. The funds helped to buy a $12,000 emergency response vehicle outfitted with medical equipment and pay for the paramedics' stipends and lodging in a rented apartment, said EMS committee chairman Ken Osman.

Community leaders are working with Town of Brookhaven officials on a permanent means of funding EMS services, such as by establishing a taxpayer-funded ambulance district.

Through July 8, paramedics had responded to 21 calls for suspected heart attacks, broken bones, a house fire and other emergencies. In addition to the paramedics, doctors and nurse practitioners from North Shore-LIJ Medical Group staff a critical care clinic -- known to Grove residents as Belly Acres -- that is open four hours a day through the summer.

Among those rescued by the first responders was part-time Grove resident James Wooten, who went to the clinic on July 16 when he felt chest pains later diagnosed as a heart attack. Nurse practitioner Cathy Morimando and emergency medical technician Jennifer Hartmann treated Wooten at the clinic before he was taken by boat and ambulance to Southside Hospital in Bay Shore.

"I think it's an enormous asset to the community," Wooten said.

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