Rensselaerville Volunteer Ambulance to close

Enterprise file photo — Marcello Iaia
Brenda Wood, treasurer and ambulance driver for Rensselaerville Volunteer Ambulance, left, in 2015 gave town supervisor Valerie Lounsbury a check for $42,000 in order to offset the cost of coverage by the Albany County Sheriff's Emergency Medical Services unit. 

RENSSELAERVILLE — With an aging force of 10 to 12 members, the Rensselaerville Volunteer Ambulance is looking to shut down. The Albany County Sheriff’s Emergency Medical Services unit will be taking over calls, as it has been doing whenever the smaller force could not take them, said Albany County Sheriff’s EMS Captain Brian Wood.

“The transition will be seamless for us,” said Wood. He could not give out any exact dates, but hopes the entire process is done by the end of the year.

Town supervisor Valerie Lounsbury described the current process as “very preliminary,” saying that the town will be meeting with the county and will send out a release when an itinerary has been determined.

“Rest assured we have worked with the county ambulance for several years,” said Lounsbury. “I really don’t see that we will be without ambulance services...I think it will be a smooth transition.”

Lounsbury said that the town knew there has been a lack of volunteers in town. Rensselaerville is down to three certified EMTs, and a town must have at least one on hand.

“I think all small towns are having this problem,” she said.

The county EMS currently has a station in Clarksville, and has been using the station in Voorheesville owned by Voorheesville Area Ambulance Service — which is currently in the process of merging with Delmar-Bethlehem EMS after being faced with having to close itself.

Rensselaerville Volunteer Ambulance is considering turning its station into a public-safety building, which the fire and police departments as well as the county EMS could use, or the building — equipped with an emergency generator — could be used for emergencies or power outages.

Wood said that the building, built around 15 years ago, was paid for by the volunteer group in cash, and so the only cost would be for heat and electricity. The rescue squad itself is around 45 years old.

Equipment could be passed on to other emergency responder groups; the hydraulic extrication tool could be given to Tri-Village Volunteer Fire Company, the ambulance may go to the county, Wood said.

 

The Enterprise — Michael Koff
Rensselaerville Volunteer Ambulance had paid for its station building in full about 15 years ago. Should another entity use it — it is being considered as a public safety building — only utilities would need to be paid for.

 

Another possibility would be to have the Tri-Village Volunteer Fire Company, located in Preston Hollow, begin to do EMS responses as well as responses to fire. Wood is an assistant captain in the fire company, and has family who are members as well.

Wood is also a member of the town’s rescue squad, as is his mother, Brenda Wood; his father, Rensselaerville Councilman Gerald Wood; and his brother Dennis Wood. There are around half a dozen other members, but Wood credits his mother — an ambulance driver — with doing a majority of the work.

“My mother has been doing 90 percent of the ambulance calls,” he said, with a warning that, when volunteer ambulance squads end up depending on a few people like his mother, disaster can strike if they are unable to do the work. He said his mother, who is in her 60s and retired, had been calling the county EMS when she had to go out of town in order to ensure the county crew would respond to calls immediately since she wouldn’t be there.

Wood, who serves about six hours a week as a volunteer, said that, besides himself, his brother, and one other member, the volunteers are all retired and in their 60s.

“They’re all old, I hate to say that,” he said.

He noted that the volunteers knew for about a month before the announcement was made on Jan. 31 at a special meeting of the Rensselaerville Town Board that the rescue squad would be closing, “But we’ve known it’s been coming for years,” he added.

“Volunteerism is declining,” said Wood. He added that people working one or more jobs cannot be expected to complete 150 hours of training as well as volunteering for free. Besides Rensselaerville, he said, the only other rescue squads in the county run completely by volunteers are Onesquethaw Fire and Ambulance in New Scotland (which uses its volunteer fire department members as well as EMS members), Westerlo Rescue Squad in Westerlo, and Helderberg Ambulance in Berne and Knox.

In 2016, Wood oversaw the county EMS taking over coverage for the Voorheesville Area Ambulance Service. This came after a handful of meetings in which the town of New Scotland had looked to unify its EMS coverage that was currently divided between the county, VAAS, and Onesquethaw. The meetings stopped shortly after VAAS announced it would close.

In 2014, Wood also oversaw an attempt to station a dedicated emergency medical technician in the Hilltowns. The towns were expected to support it financially, and the plan fell through when Westerlo did not agree to pay its share. Some Westerlo Rescue Squad members wanted to continue as volunteers and felt they would come second if the county took over.

“We need to have a very open process here between us and the town,” said Wood, about Rensselaerville, noting his past experiences.

He also expects to see coverage hours increase for the county EMS, although not necessarily employment or equipment increases.

“We’re going to have to obviously ramp up,” he said. “They’ll be two people around 24/7.”

Mark Butler, a Buffalo-based attorney who Wood said worked with Delmar’s rescue squad when it merged with Bethlehem’s, will be assisting with the transition and dissolution.

Editor’s note: H. Rose Schneider knows someone who works for Albany County Emergency Medical Services.

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