Altamont Rescue Squad carries on through demise of Western Turnpike

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair

Emergency medical technician Dan Delaney fills oxygen tanks at the Altamont Rescue Squad at 767 Route 146 in the village.

GUILDERLAND — The closing of Western Turnpike Rescue Squad in December will have “absolutely no effect” on Altamont Rescue Squad, said Warren Quinn, Altamont’s chief of operations.

Western Turnpike Rescue Squad’s last day of operation will be Dec. 3, according to Drew Chesney, the squad’s executive director. Asked whether the writing is on the wall for Altamont, Chesney said, “You’d have to talk to Altamont Rescue Squad and the town about that. I have no comment on that.”

For decades, Guilderland was covered by two volunteer squads — Western Turnpike and Altamont. In recent years, as volunteers are harder to find and training for first responders becomes more advanced, paid workers were added to the squads.

In June, the town board voted unanimously — with no previous public discussion — to establish its own ambulance service, buy a used bariatric ambulance for $52,000, authorize the supervisor to enter a shared-services agreement for the county to use the ambulance, and hire enough emergency medical technicians — 10 part-timers — to staff the ambulance 24 hours a day.

More recently, town Supervisor Peter Barber said that, with the closing of Western Turnpike, the town will also take over the rescue squad’s two buildings, buy four or five new ambulance, and hire 11 additional part-time emergency medical technicians.

The town of Guilderland’s budget for 2019 is $1.3 million more than this year’s budget, largely because the town will launch its own ambulance service and take over the role that had been played by Western Turnpike. It will continue to work with the Altamont Rescue Squad, the other not-for-profit rescue squad used by the town.

Altamont’s outlook

“It really has no effect on us at all. We’re status quo as before, hopefully into the future,” said Quinn of Altamont Rescue Squad, which he noted is the oldest rescue squad in the state. The Altamont squad contracts with the town to provide ambulance services as needed, but primarily within a set area of Guilderland, which Quinn said extends from Altamont to the Normanskill Bridge, near Tawasentha Park.

The squad will go anywhere it’s needed, Quinn said, adding that Altamont Rescue is called to other parts of town “periodically,” at times when there is a high volume of ambulance calls. “We will cover all of Guilderland if needed,” he said.

Altamont Rescue is a private corporation, contracted with Guilderland to cover about a third of the geographical territory of Guilderland, Quinn said; it is also contracted with Knox to do about half of that town, he said. The other part of Knox is covered by Helderberg Ambulance. The town of Knox pays these squads for their services; in 2018, Knox paid $55,000 to the squads for their combined services.

“The town’s going to be doing the same thing that Western Turnpike was doing, so it shouldn’t affect us at all,” Quinn said, referring to Guilderland and the changes there. The Altamont Rescue Squad has about 12 to 15 volunteers, he said, and 15 paid emergency medical technicians.

Quinn is not worried about the town taking over Altamont Rescue’s operations. “We’re providing our contractual agreement to them, and there’d be no reason for them to look at taking us over.” The town has always been supportive, Quinn said; he added that the town had stated that “it’s not their objective to take over our operations.”

Earlier this year, Guilderland leaders said there were no plans for the town to take over Western Turnpike. Since June, town officials said that Western Turnpike’s services had been unreliable, and that the town had needed to help cover staffing shortages that occurred when Western Turnpike employees called in sick.

“I would say, in the last five or 10 years, we’ve never done that,” said Quinn. “If somebody gets sick, they’re very conscientious about letting people know in advance, and we find somebody to cover.” When emergencies come up at the last minute, the volunteers or the employees who are on stay longer, until someone can relieve them, Quinn explained.

The amount contracted with Guilderland fluctuates, Quinn said, explaining that it is calculated in advance based on expected revenue and expected operating costs. Altamont, like most squads uses “revenue recovery,” that is, collecting money from the insurance companies of patients who have insurance to help fund its operation.

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