Villages and fire departments in the Hamptons are hiring paid emergency medical technicians to help staff volunteer ambulance corps that are coping with swelling populations and busier summers on the South Fork.
The Hamptons' continuing popularity as a resort and retirement destination has coincided with rising economic pressure on working, year-round residents. To make ends meet, volunteers must work elsewhere instead to get the most economically from the summer season, they said.
"It's getting harder and harder," said Sag Harbor Volunteer Ambulance Corps Chief Ed Downes. "People are working more than one job to survive out here."
East Hampton Village is the latest to hire part-time paramedics and critical-care technicians, who started working daytime shifts last month. It hired 19 responders to work every day from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and around the clock on summer holiday weekends, to supplement the ambulance corps' 48 volunteers. The village budgeted $105,000 this year for the program to run year-round.
The Amagansett Fire Department's first class of paid first responders started two months earlier. They followed the Montauk Fire Department, which started the trend of paid first responders last summer, adopting a practice common farther west on Long Island.
Sag Harbor Village budgeted $63,500 this year to hire a full-time first responder who could also perform administrative tasks for its ambulance corps, but officials are working out details of the hire, Mayor Brian Gilbride said.
"We have a great ambulance crew," he said. "We were just trying to be ahead of the curve."
The flood of people in the summer "conflicts with the time when people have to work the most so they can get through the winter comfortably," said Diane O'Donnell, chief of the East Hampton Village Ambulance Association.
Response time is another factor driving the hiring trend. Summer traffic can result in a volunteer needing up to 21/2 hours to get a patient from East Hampton to Southampton Hospital and back, O'Donnell said.
"As the population gets more dense, it puts a bigger demand on the volunteers' time," she said. "Even people who would love to be on the ambulance all day can't."
Ambulance calls in East Hampton's jurisdiction increased from 1,320 to 1,401 between 2011 and 2013, while volunteer numbers remained stable, O'Donnell said.
New hire Ian King, 30, said he started his emergency response career as a volunteer in his native Southampton when he was a high school senior. He now works part-time for five departments -- Rocky Point, Southampton, East Hampton, Amagansett and Montauk.
"I kind of fell in love with it when I joined, and being able to do it as a job, it's better," King said last month, on his first day with the East Hampton department. "It's the East End of Long Island. It's where I grew up."
The East End Ambulance Coalition, a group with representatives from departments in Montauk, Amagansett, Springs, East Hampton, Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton, is in talks with Southampton and East Hampton towns to create a special tax district to pay for several at-large emergency responders to supplement those easternmost departments.