Despite county takeover, VAAS stays on

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider

Same location, new ambulance: An Albany County Sheriff’s EMS ambulance sits outside Voorheesville Area Ambulance Service’s station in the village. The volunteer squad has downgraded to a secondary service after the county’s, but is seeking to return as a volunteer EMS squad.

NEW SCOTLAND — Some Voorheesville ambulance volunteers don’t want to quit.

A little over two months ago, Voorheesville Area Ambulance Service announced that it was going to dissolve its volunteer-based rescue squad on Oct. 15, with the Albany County Sheriff’s EMS team subsequently offering to increase its service to VAAS’s coverage area to a 24/7 operation. But this has not signified the determinate end of VAAS.

On Wednesday night at the town of New Scotland’s final budget workshop, VAAS Captain Kate Odell and VAAS First Lieutenant Thom Smith presented a plan to the town board of merging the organization with Delmar-Bethlehem EMS. Smith added that there would also be a “very tight integration” with the county EMS, something, he added, that would be similar to VAAS’s current partnership with the county.

Smith said that the Voorheesville building would remain open and operational in this plan, and that it had been agreed with Delmar-Bethlehem EMS to allow VAAS members to be eligible for leadership positions, upon completion of the merger and meeting eligibility requirements. He also said that there were bylaws and membership requirements written up for this potential merged organization.

Town Supervisor Doug LaGrange said that it would be necessary to discuss this further in a joint meeting with the village of Voorheesville, Delmar-Bethlehem EMS, and the Albany County Sheriff’s EMS. It was mentioned at the beginning of Wednesday’s meeting that VAAS had given a similar presentation before the village on Tuesday night.

Since the start date of VAAS’s dissolution on Oct. 15, the organization’s members have continued to hold meetings, with about half a dozen volunteers assisting the County EMS with calls, Smith told The Enterprise.

“There’s still an organization; we just took over the primary,” County EMS Captain Brian Wood told The Enterprise. “There’s been no problem, no animosity.”

Smith confirmed this. “We’re the secondary agency for all calls,” he said. “The county is the primary agency for all calls.”

In the meantime, however, VAAS is still in a process of dissolution, which could mean the volunteer organization would completely stop its service if it does not find a means to continue, said Smith.

“Eventually we will be too far down the the path to dissolution,” he said.

Smith told The Enterprise on Tuesday that the group had met and ventured ideas of teaming up in some way with an organization from Guilderland or Bethlehem or with the County EMS.

The County EMS, which is staffed by paid employees, currently has two workers split between the former VAAS station in the village of Voorheesville and the county station in Clarksville, an emergency medical technician and a paramedic, said Wood.

VAAS volunteers arrive to a call straight from wherever they are rather than from the station. The station in Voorheesville still belongs to VAAS, and all its equipment — including an ambulance at the Voorheesville station — is used only by its volunteers.

It is unclear what will eventually become of VAAS’s assets; Smith told The Enterprise a dissolution of the organization is unwanted in part because distribution of its assets would then be decided by a judge. Since VAAS is a not-for-profit, such assets would have to go another not-for-profit with a similar mission. Smith says not dissolving VAAS means a choice in what to do with its assets.

Wood told The Enterprise that, if VAAS completely dissolves, it could mean the County EMS would lose the village station, but added that he is not worried.

“We have a building right in Clarksville; it is not a huge emergency,” he said. “We’re still right in New Scotland.”

The distance to drive from Clarksville to Voorheesville in the case of an EMS call, said Wood, is seven to 10 minutes. He added that staying solely in Clarksville would be a temporary solution until another building in the village could be found, but, once again, he says he isn’t worried.

“I’m sure somebody has a garage,” said Wood. He later added, of VAAS’s Voorheesville station, “I’m optimistic that the EMS in New Scotland will stay here in the building.”

Another benefit, says Smith, to ensuring VAAS stays on, even as a secondary service, would be monetary. Relieving even a few paid employees with volunteers could cut back on town and village expenses.

At the Wednesday night meeting, Smith noted that a 12-hour shift would cost the town and village about $250, a cost that could be avoided with a volunteer.

“There’s a tradeoff,” said Wood, of using career-based EMS services rather than volunteers. Paid workers are often faster because they are on-call at a station rather than on-call at home or elsewhere like volunteers, but they do come at a monetary cost.

Before VAAS had announced it would dissolve its organization, a series of committee meetings had been held, made up of members representing the town of New Scotland’s EMS services — the county’s and VAAS as well as Onesquethaw Fire and Ambulance — and also representatives of the village of Voorheesville and the town of New Scotland.

VAAS has recently met with other EMS organizations, mainly from Guilderland and Bethlehem, or with Albany County, Smith told The Enterprise. He added that smaller groups like Onesquethaw Fire and Ambulance or the Helderberg Ambulance Service were considered for VAAS to team up with, but not seen as viable options.

“We’re looking at the larger operations, more mature agencies,” said Smith told The Enterprise on Tuesday. “It’s going to come down to money.”

Smith told The Enterprise that the plan to merge with Delmar-Bethlehem EMS was found to be the most viable solution, because of its “long-standing and very tight relationship” with the county EMS.

Before leaving Wednesday’s meeting, Odell told town board members that VAAS hadn’t known up until recently that a possible means of staying open was in sight.

“We didn’t know there was going to be one,” said Odell. “I thought we were done.”

Editor’s note: the author of this article has a close acquaintance who works for Albany County EMS, and who is frequently stationed in Voorheesville.

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