Mahwah’s ambulance corps will remain “100 percent volunteer,” according to Mayor Bill Laforet and representatives of both ambulance corps in the township. After about five months of negotiations between the two parties discussing what the exact future of the emergency response system in Mahwah would be, the two sides agreed to keep the current all-volunteer system in place, but with some changes to operations and procedures used by the corps.
Several months ago, , Laforet said he was considering a switch in the system whereby police dispatchers would call a third-party paid service to an emergency situation if volunteer Mahwah EMTs were unable to respond. He said he was considering different options as a way to “ensure the quickest, best response times for residents.”
However, the agreement reached between the mayor and corps does not include any third-party vendors. Instead, calls that are not responded to by Mahwah ambulances will be transferred to mutual aid from nearby towns, like Ramsey. “Over the last five months, the corps have clearly demonstrated that their ability to perform at reasonable response times, and that is really to their credit,” he said.
According to police statistics, Mahwah ambulances have responded to over 500 calls since January.
Laforet said he was happy to keep the volunteer structure of the ambulance corps in tact. “I think we are in a unique situation in Mahwah, where we can ensure the best quality care for people in the township while still keeping our volunteer corps. A lot of smaller towns are not so lucky.”
However, he did say their were “structural issues” that both sides agreed to change in the coming months, which he said "should help keep response times quick." According to a presentation made to the township council last week, the ambulance corps will adhere to sixteen new rules and regulations.
The biggest change is in responding protocol. Currently, in an emergency situation, a police dispatcher will call for an “in-zone” ambulance (Company 1 in its territory and in its territory) first. If a full crew is not assembled after two minutes, it will make a second “in-zone” call. If no crew is assembled after another two minutes, dispatchers make an “out-of-zone” call, to the other Mahwah company, and if no crew is assembled there after two minutes, a call for mutual aid.
Under the new agreement, the second “in-zone” call is eliminated. Police dispatchers will now move to a “two minute – two minute – mutual aid” system, whereby calls will be made first to the in-zone corps, then to both Mahwah corps, then to mutual aid crews.
According to a statement from ambulance corps members that was read to the town council, response times in the past have been "questioned...and rightfully so on some occasions." However, the members said they have demonstrated their capabilities to improve those over the past five months, and "pledge to provide the same timely, professional quality of care," under the new agreement.
Most other changes in the new agreement are aimed at streamlining procedures between the two companies – 1, which services Mahwah proper and 4, which services Fardale.
As part of the agreement, both corps have agreed to filling their rotation schedules 24/7, signing in to police dispatch software when responding to a call so that police know EMTs are en route to emergencies, and to have all ambulance corps radios reprogrammed and maintained by the township. In addition, Companies 1 and 4 must coordinate their SOG’s, or Standard Operating Guidelines, and LOSAP agreements, a pension-like service-award program for volunteers.
The agreement between the township’s administration and ambulance corps stresses communication between the two companies. According to Mahwah Police Lt. Stuart Blank, who serves as the administration’s liaison to emergency medical services, regular meetings will be set up moving forward between himself, representatives from both companies, the mayor, and Mahwah’s Office of Emergency Management to implement the sixteen changes.
“Each point we agreed to has a deadline. Some are quick, others will take time to put in place. But, we hope to have everything set by January 2013,” he said.
According to Company 1 President MaryAnn Mauro, a lot of the changes agreed to “were things we had been talking about internally, anyway.” She said volunteers at both Company 1 and Company 4 “have the same goal. We want to serve the township and save people, there are only so many ways you can do that. Now, it’s just the minutia points that need to be worked out.”
Company 4 Captain Chuck Jandris agreed. “We always strive to keep the same high quality of care for patients, so in that regard both companies are the same,” he said. “But, operationally, there are differences, like our call sheets are different, for example. So, I think something like this was necessary to get everybody on the same page.”
Jandris and Co. 1 Captain Greg Antonetti released the following “Captains’ Statement” in response to the new agreement: “It is our honor to continue to serve the community of Mahwah together. Ambulance Cos. 1 [and] 4 will work as a team, striving to maintain the highest level of patient care coupled with swift response time. We look to the future with open eyes and selfless hearts, caring for those people living in or traveling through Mahwah.”
Ambulance corps members say they hope their companies' procedures can become a model for other towns in the area to use. "We have been serving Mahwah for 65 years," Mauro said. "All we wanted was to be able to keep doing that, as volunteers. So, we will do whatever it takes to make sure that we can keep doing what we do."
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