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Huntington ambulance squad starts hiring paid paramedics

Huntington Community First Aid Squad's headquarters is seen

Huntington Community First Aid Squad's headquarters is seen here on Sept. 2, 2016. Photo Credit: Ed Betz

The Huntington Community First Aid Squad, for the first time in its more than 40-year history, is hiring paid paramedics for its ambulance services.

The squad will hire five paramedics, who are likely to start later this month to supplement the squad’s volunteer first responders.

A Huntington Town-commissioned study released last year that looked at the increase in requests for mutual aid by the squad recommended sweeping changes in the all-volunteer organization’s operations, including hiring paid staff.

The squad serves an area from Lloyd Harbor and Lloyd Neck in the north to Melville in the south, from the Nassau/Suffolk border and Cold Spring Harbor in the west to Greenlawn and Dix Hills in the east.

The town study came after five chiefs from surrounding fire and emergency service organizations had complained that there was an “undue burden” in mutual aid requests from the squad. Mutual aid requests are calls for help from other ambulance services.

“Our whole idea of hiring the paramedics is because the Town of Huntington requires us, in our last contract, to provide service faster and have more advanced life support providers on every call,” said John Palmieri, president of the squad’s board of directors.

In the spring the squad signed a one-year, $1.585 million contract with the town to provide emergency medical and ambulance service. It included a provision for the squad to start billing patients’ insurance companies for emergency services that had been free. Municipalities in the past decade have moved toward billing insurers for ambulance services to help offset the cost of taxpayer-funded emergency medical service.

“It’s long overdue,” Town Supervisor Frank Petrone said of adding paid paramedics. “It was one of the major points in the study, so this is a step in the right direction in order to improve the quality of service and the response times.”

The squad, based at 2 Railroad St. in Huntington Station, operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Palmieri said a dispatcher and two four-person crews are working at any given time. A paid paramedic will be in a “quick response car” and will go on every call.

“They will get there first and determine if it’s an ALS call — Advanced Life Support — or a basic life support call and whether he has to treat, or if the crew coming from . . . [squad headquarters] can take care of it,” Palmieri said.

The paramedics will work part-time and be paid $25 an hour. Volunteers already with the squad are not eligible to be hired as paramedics because of possible violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act or Length of Service Awards Program credits, Palmieri said.

“Our lawyers have said that could only cause us problems,” Palmieri said, though he refused to identify the attorney for possible clarification. “He didn’t specify why, only that it would require a lot of bookkeeping.”

The squad’s financial record-keeping was at the center of a dispute between the town and the squad over the 2016 budget. The budget was approved with an 8 percent cut based on the town’s analysis of the ambulance service’s finances, which indicated the squad has been carrying a cash balance in its operating budget — money town officials said was supposed to be used to purchase new ambulances. Squad officials acknowledged $1.9 million in another account, but said that money was raised over the years from donations and wise investing.

Palmieri said the new hires would be paid from donations and an investment fund, which would be paid back once the squad begins billing insurance companies.

The Huntington Community First Aid Squad serves an area from Lloyd Harbor and Lloyd Neck in the north to Melville in the south and from the Nassau/Suffolk border and Cold Spring Harbor in the west to Greenlawn and Dix Hills in the east.

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