Ambulance services in small, rural communities face challenges unlike their urban counterparts. They have farther to go when transporting patients to the nearest hospital, and smaller towns have fewer potential volunteers to offer their time and skills.
But officials with two small emergency medical corps in the Sacandaga Valley say they are well-equipt to provide quality care, even in the most critical life-or-death situations.
The Broadalbin Volunteer Ambulance Corps was able to provide only basic life support until a few years ago, when some of its members completed their training as paramedics, which allows them to provide advanced life support - including the use of cardiac monitors, drugs, intravenous therapy and other techniques and equipment. Just recently, BVAC medics became certified to dispense narcotic pain medications such as morphine.
Northampton EMS?Chief Jack Farquar gestures as he describes some of the state-of-the-art equipment in the ambulance Thursday. (The Leader-Herald/Bill Ackerbauer)
Sam Jackling, a volunteer EMT, is treasurer of the Broadalbin Volunteer Ambulance Corps and has been a member since it was established in 1981.
"Back then, we were staffed 24-7 with volunteers, and we were able to do that for a number of years before we started having gaps in coverage," Jackling said. "We've had ups and downs, just like all volunteer services."
BVAC started billing patients' insurance carriers for its services in 2007, so the agency no longer has to rely on donations to cover its expenses. It undertook another major change at the start of this year, when it added paid professionals to its staff.
"Now we've integrated a paid staff with our volunteers," said Lisa Pfeiffer, who has served as BVAC's president since 2000.
The agency, which serves Broadalbin, Perth and part of the town of Mayfield - an area of about 80 square miles - is staffed with part-time professional emergency medical technicians and paramedics from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Paramedic Chris Georgia, BVAC's corps captain, said the agency now is able to provide a higher level of care than ever before.
"Everybody's seasoned," Georgia said of the staff. "It's a lot of highly skilled, very experienced providers."
The agency has 11 part-time paid staffers, including seven paramedics and four EMTs, all of whom have other jobs with emergency-response agencies in the region. A group of about 27 volunteers with various levels of training responds to calls after hours.
Ambulance services in Fulton County are dispatched through the 911 call center at the Sheriff's Office in Johnstown. The Gloversville-based Ambulance Service of Fulton County will respond to after-hours calls if the local agency doesn't have a crew available.
"If we don't respond, you're waiting for an ambulance out of Gloversville, and on a good day, that's a 10-minute ride at least," Georgia said. "Our goal is early intervention, early access to patient care, to the right equipment, the right providers, the right drugs - patient care, really."
Pfeiffer said BVAC answers about 30 to 50 calls each month.
"This month looks like it's going to be a blockbuster," she said. "We had 11 calls on Monday alone."
The Northampton Ambulance Service is an all-volunteer operation owned by the town, and it doesn't charge patients for services.
Northampton EMS Chief Jack Farquar, a critical care technician, has been with the service since 1994.
NAS?gets about 200 to 300 calls per year, Farquar said.
"Some months, you may get as few as 10 calls; other months, you may get as many as 30 calls," he said. "We're busier in the summertime as a general rule."
Northampton has 24 volunteers, including six with advanced training (paramedics and critical-care technicians), five EMTs and several support-staff members who ride along to assist.
"We need more drivers, especially in the daytime, and more personnel in general," Farquar said.
While the agency could use a few more able bodies, its 2006 ambulance is stocked with topnotch medical gear.
"The main thing we do with our donations is buy equipment," Farquar said. "Most of the equipment you'll see on the ambulance is state-of-the art, the best you can buy. We keep everything right up to snuff."
The Broadalbin Volunteer Ambulance Corps has two vehicles, one of which has been equipt with an array of new, high-tech equipment that was required for its accreditation as an advanced life support agency.
"The initial cost was astronomical," Georgia said. Two new heart monitors cost $25,000 each, and BVAC has a power stretcher with a $15,000 pricetag.
Both Broadalbin and Northampton ambulances have automated CPR machines that can perform chest compressions on patients, keeping the medics' hands free to perform other tasks.
"We essentially bring a small emergency room right to the patient's house," Georgia said.
Pfeiffer said she wants residents of her community to know the local ambulance service is just a 911 call away.
"We're here for them," Pfeiffer said. "They should know that when they call, there's going to be somebody from BVAC on the other end."
Bill Ackerbauer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.