Amid efforts to unify coverage of New Scotland, VAAS decides to close rescue squad

NEW SCOTLAND — Voorheesville Area Ambulance Service announced it will cease operations in two months. VAAS First Lieutenant Thom Smith made the announcement Monday night at a committee meeting held to address emergency medical service coverage in the town.

Smith said the board of directors for the EMS squad had made the decision because the squad lacked the volunteers it needs to service the community.

“We can’t continue to with the number of volunteers that we have,” said Smith.

At the meeting, Smith and VAAS Captain Kate Odell went over their various options for their squad. Smith and Odell had met with Western Turnpike Rescue Squad, and VAAS board member Roger DiBona had met with Delmar-Bethlehem EMS. Smith said that they had concluded that any potential merging with other EMS units wouldn’t make sense, as their own unit had little to offer besides assets like their ambulances.

“That is why we have made our decision,” said Smith at the committee meeting.

Those attending, including Smith, Lobdell, DiBona, VAAS board member Tom Dorn, Onesquethaw Volunteer Fire Company President Debra Lobdell, OVFC Lieutenant Jenna Houck, Voorheesville Trustee Jack Stevens, New Scotland Public Safety Commissioner Doug Miller, and Town Board member Adam Greenberg, were silent.

Then Miller asked what the decision was.

“The decision to close the organization in 60 days,” responded Smith. This time the silence was even longer.

The second set of tones

“We...can’t bear the moral and ethical responsibility of somebody potentially dying from lack of responses,” Smith continued at the meeting.

“It gives us great heartache to hear a second set of tones,” he said, speaking to The Enterprise earlier, “knowing that we cannot give any more help.”

“The town had known since probably 2008 that things were changing,” said Odell to the committee, “That the core group of us was dwindling.”

“The town has been here, the village has been here, trying to make things work,” Miller replied, “From the outside looking in, it seemed that it was in the right direction.”

Both Stevens and Miller thanked the volunteers for their service. Stevens noted that a decline in volunteers has become widespread, and not particular to Voorheesville.

Tentatively, VAAS expects to disband on Oct. 15. The service will be sending out an official statement to the village and town announcing its closure.

Previous attempts

The committee has been attempting to coordinate schedules between the town’s EMS teams, but at Monday’s meeting it was revealed that, although the information about both OVFC’s and VAAS’s schedules were shared with one another, the teams had not taken on one another’s shifts.

According to Houck, OVFC had been trying to work out a system of mutual aid, Lobdell adding that they had not received much help from VAAS in doing so.

Absent from Monday night’s meeting were Albany County EMS coordinator Brian Wood and Dr. Michael Dailey of the Regional Emergency Medical Organization. This has been the fourth committee meeting held to address EMS coverage in the town, as concerns have grown over a lack of volunteers and aging members depleting EMS forces.

Though it is still unknown, Smith predicted that Albany County’s EMS services would take over the coverage provided by VAAS. However, because the county’s EMTs are paid employees, the coverage will come at a cost to the town.

Smith said VAAS had already spoken with Wood, and had been told it would take two months to build up enough staff to fill in the lack of coverage left by VAAS.

Odell spoke remorsefully about an attempt in 2014 to create a hybrid of paid employees and volunteers.

“That had a lot of possibility,” she said, adding that it would have cost the town just a small amount of money. However, the plans for creating this hybrid team fell through. Similarly, in 2015, VAAS had used the private Queensbury-based agency E5 Support Services but did not continue the arrangement following the end of a six-month contract.

Getting their lives back

The four members attending Monday’s meeting made up a majority of the VAAS unit, and the four together had served 76 years in VAAS. The members said the growing number of households in the town and even new activities at Thacher Park strained their services. Dorn noted that the completion of the Albany County Rail Trail into the town could lead to even more injuries that they would be called in to attend to.

Speaking to The Enterprise, Dorn, DiBona, Smith, and Odell described back-to-back shifts at VAAS, often complicated if a member was sick or dropped out. Recently, several VAAS volunteers have dropped out for personal, educational, or work-related reasons.

Odell herself was concerned, as she and other members aged, there would be greater risk of injury.

“Some of these patients are very heavy,” said Odell, “I’ve had to call the fire department.”

“It’s not painful,” said Smith, of the decision to close the squad, “It’s a relief.”

Odell agreed. “My nights are not my own,” she said, “My grandsons miss me.”

“I’m going to get my life back,” she later said.

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