Oswego County Celebrates EMS Week May 19-25

CELEBRATING EMS WEEK – Oswego County’s ambulance corps personnel celebrated EMS Week in Oswego County by staging their rigs together. From left are Oswego County EMS Coordinator Nate Degear, EMT-B; Greg Blake, EMT-CC, assistant director of McFee Ambulance; Justin Crowl, EMT-B and Melissa Brydges, EMT-P, both of NOCA; Rick Johnson, EMT-B, Peyton Wells, EMT-B, and Joe Bellino, EMT-P, all of North Shore Ambulance Service; Michael Zukovsky, EMT-P, director of operations, Menter Ambulance; Rayamajhi Biswokrit Jung, EMT-B, chief of operations, Adain O’Loughlin, EMT-B, assistant chief of operations, John Oliveri, EMT-B, second assistant chief, and all of SAVAC at SUNY Oswego, and Deputy Fire Chief Carl Emmons Jr., EMT-P, Oswego Fire Department.

OSWEGO COUNTY – “Honoring Our Past, Forging Our Future” is the theme of National Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Week which runs from Monday, May 19 to Saturday, May 25. Sponsored by the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT), this is the 50th anniversary of the recognition which spotlights the efforts of EMS providers.

AMBULANCE CORPS IN OSWEGO COUNTY – Ambulance corps in Oswego County include, from left, Donald McFee Ambulance Service, Northern Oswego County Ambulance (NOCA), North Shore Ambulance Service, Menter’s Ambulance, Student Association Volunteer Ambulance Corps (SAVAC) at SUNY Oswego and the Oswego City Fire Department.

In 2023, the county had 527 EMS providers working at six ambulance agencies. They include: Menter’s Ambulance in Fulton, Donald McFee Ambulance Service in Mexico, Northern Oswego County Ambulance (NOCA) in Pulaski, North Shore Ambulance in Cleveland, Oswego Fire Department, and Student Association Volunteer Ambulance Corps (SAVAC) at SUNY Oswego. Brewerton Ambulance in Onondaga County also helps to provide coverage in the southern end of Oswego County.

“Our call volume has increased since the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Michael Zukovsky, EMT-P, director of operations at Menter’s Ambulance. “We had 18,000 calls last year and we’re on track to surpass that in 2024.”

Other ambulance agencies are also experiencing more calls. Donald McFee Ambulance Service reported 2,100 calls in 2023 and NOCA responds to 2,600 calls a year.

EMS providers enjoy serving their community and providing care to people in need. At a recent opportunity to photograph the agencies’ rigs together, they reflected on why they became EMTs and what challenges they face now.

“I enjoy providing service in the community I came from,” said Melissa Brydges, EMT-P, a provider with NOCA. “I’m helping people I know, who I grew up with.”

Oswego Fire Chief Paul Conzone said, “The efficient and effective delivery of emergency medical services is a vital and essential component of community safety. Be it a medical or traumatic emergency, EMTs and paramedics routinely perform life-saving services and interventions while on the way to final care at an area hospital.”

Zukovsky added, “Right now, what makes it more difficult is that there are more patients than providers. Twenty years ago, we had enough providers to handle most of the calls. Now, patients outweigh the number of providers.”

Justin Crowl, EMT-B, a provider with NOCA, seconded that. “We need help,” he said. “There are fewer providers to answer more calls than before the COVID-19 pandemic, when ambulance corps were already stretched thin.”

Joe Bellino, EMT-P, of North Shore Ambulance added, “And not just warm bodies. We need support from government agencies. Funding would be a good start.”

Brandon T. Morris, BS, NRP, and executive director of North Shore Ambulance explained, “EMS in New York State, and across the country, is in crisis. Unlike fire and law enforcement, EMS is not an essential service here, which means that government entities do not legally have to provide or ensure its services for residents. Many municipalities across Oswego County contract with their local ambulance service; however, the support that is now required is rapidly outgrowing the abilities of the municipalities.”

Greg Blake, EMT-CC, and assistant director at McFee Ambulance, said, “The definition of emergency has changed. Now people are using the emergency room as a physician’s office. The pandemic caused a backlog of patients for medical office visits and specialists, and people are not receiving the medical care they need. So, when they do call, it becomes a crisis.”

Zukovsky agreed, “A lot of people got clogged up in the system. They had no other care, so the ambulance became their primary care.”

Crowl remembers, “The first couple of months of the COVID-19 pandemic, we couldn’t put our hands on patients. That was mentally taxing. One day to the next was very volatile, especially when providers began getting sick.”

At SUNY Oswego, “students are miles away from home,” said Adain O’Loughlin, EMT-B, second assistant chief at SAVAC. “College students are scared to pay medical bills. We give them peace of mind so they’re not afraid to call 911 when they need to.”

The student-run SAVAC is all-volunteer; just as many of the other ambulance corps in the county were started by volunteers, with a handful who are still serving. NOCA has three volunteers, while McFee has eight. North Shore has one volunteer driver and an all-volunteer board.

Now EMTs are primarily paid, and many of them work at several corps to make ends meet. “The scope of practice is so much broader now,” explains Bellino. “We’re seeing much more staff turnover.”

The community is working with ambulance corps to find new EMTs. “We’re grateful to the schools, particularly CiTi-BOCES, for bringing us into career fairs to encourage more students to become EMTs,” Bellino added.

Crowl agreed, “The schools and communities help us a lot locally. We appreciate everything they do for us.”

Oswego County EMS Coordinator Nate Degear, EMT-B, said, “Our EMTs and paramedics are the backbone of pre-hospital care. Over the past 50 years and before, ambulance services have provided quality, compassionate care to people throughout the county, at home, at the scene of an accident, or anywhere else.”

Oswego County Emergency Management Director Cathleen Palmitesso added, “EMS workers are vital in improving the survival and recovery rate of those who experience sudden illness or injury. They are dedicated to providing compassionate, life-saving care to those in need 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Chief Conzone agreed, “The Oswego Fire Department is proud to maintain an all-hazards response capability, including advanced life support in transporting ambulances that provide the surge capacity for our local EMS system. The City of Oswego is proud to partner with Menter Ambulance that handles the majority of the local ambulance transport needs. We appreciate the hard work and dedication that all EMS providers display each and every shift in order to keep our community safe.”

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