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Study recommends sweeping changes to Huntington ambulance squad

A Town of Huntington-commissioned study to look at the increase in requests for mutual aid by the Huntington Community First Aid Squad recommends sweeping changes to the way the all-volunteer organization is run.

The $13,900 study was launched last year after five chiefs from surrounding fire and emergency service organizations complained to the town about an "undue burden" mutual aid requests from the squad was causing their districts. The report was released Sept. 29.

"I think the report confirms why the requests came in: that there are some needs in the district that have to be met," Town Supervisor Frank P. Petrone said. "The top two concerns are the response times and the number of respondents."

Allysa Axelrod, vice president of the Huntington Community First Aid Squad, said in a statement that members were "very appreciative of this comprehensive review and analysis of our operations. We look forward to the opportunity to examine the report and review the recommendations."

The study conducted by Austin, Texas-based Truesimple LLC dba Medical Healthcare Group between June 2014 and June, found the squad was understaffed during key demand times, such as 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

"Here's a time where they have limited rigs and volunteers on call," Petrone said. "I think they have to re-evaluate that [staffing], and with response times they have to begin to think seriously about paid staff."

Axelrod said the squad has discussed for years -- and will continue to talk about -- hiring personnel to help the volunteers.

The report outlined eight recommendations for the squad and three for the town.

It suggested the squad modify and adjust the ambulance deployment plan and consider adding a third scheduled ambulance during peak patterns of demand; stagger the start and stop times of shift changes so all do not occur simultaneously; and restructure the recruitment, new-member and orientation process to reduce the time required to become a member.

Axelrod said the squad had already begun discussing restructuring the new-member process, and during the last six months has begun incentive initiatives such as providing meals to volunteers to get coverage on weekend nights.

"This report has used some really sophisticated metrics that will help us directly address some of the mutual aid concerns," Axelrod said.

For the town, the top recommendation is that as a requirement for funding, it should mandate the submission of monthly performance measurements such as response time performance, number of missed calls and the root cause of why the call was turned over for mutual aid.

The town and the squad disagree about planned cuts to the squad's 2016 funding. The town is proposing an 8 percent cut, a decrease of $194,901, because the squad has a surplus of $2.3 million. Petrone has asked the state comptroller to look at the squad's books. Squad leaders say the money is from years of community donations and wise investing, and is to be used at their discretion. Town funding would be $2,184,822.

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