Operations of North Warren Emergency Medical Services —which responds to hundreds of calls annually in the upper Warren County region — were suspended last week after most of the volunteer officers quit due to an internal power struggle between paid responders and volunteer staff. The agency's volunteer Board of Directors has contracted a consultant to help reorganize the agency, with the aim of contracting with the consultant to provide paid staffing. The ambulance squad is expected to be back in operation in several weeks. Meanwhile, Empire Ambulance, a for-profit enterprise, is dispatching their ambulances in North Warren's busy service area.
As of dawn Monday Dec. 3, the embattled North Warren Emergency Squad ceased operations, catching local officials off guard and leaving Empire Ambulance Service to respond to emergency medical calls in the upcounty squad’s service territory.
The suspension of service occurred after North Warren squad officers quit over disagreements between volunteers and paid staffers over how the squad should be managed, local town and emergency services officials said Dec. 4.
Empire Ambulance, a for-profit enterprise, is now dispatching ambulances out of North Warren’s headquarters and covering the North Warren service territory 24/7, local officials said. If more than one ambulance is summoned simultaneously, neighboring squads will be alerted through the county’s mutual aid system, Warren County Emergency Services Coordinator Brian LaFlure said.
Gary Scidmore, chairman of the North Warren squad’s Board of Directors, said the suspension was temporary and undertaken to allow the squad to reorganize. He referred further questions to an outside consultant, Doug Wildermuth, who is owner/operator of an emergency services staffing agency that was hired last week to provide paid emergency medical personnel and training for North Warren’s squad.
The agency has traditionally provided ambulance services for the towns of Chester and Horicon. Chester’s annual $60,000 contract with the squad is now pending, and Horicon pays its stipend quarterly, primarily because of the of instability and controversy surrounding the squad in recent years.
Chester Supervisor Fred Monroe said Dec. 4 that when the 2012 contract was signed, the town board insisted that paid staffers not serve on the board of directors or serve as officers, after allegations had surfaced that some of the paid personnel were making inappropriate decisions concerning their own compensation. Since then, Monroe said, he’d heard allegations that these several paid staffers were attempting to influence volunteer members to force resignations of volunteer squad board directors who had opinions different than theirs.
He also said that former paid staff members who were also in executive roles, had refused to turn over their financial records to the towns, which angered many citizens and volunteers.
He added that the reorganization involved inviting back disillusioned but dedicated volunteers, as well as hiring the paid staffers not likely to cause such trouble in agency operations.
“It should be a much better operation when they are done reorganizing,” Monroe said.
Wildermuth said that the North Warren squad would now be contracting with his enterprise — E5 Support Services — for paid staffing, and the paid personnel wouldn’t be direct employees of North Warren Emergency Medical Services.
This arrangement would quell the discord, he predicted.
“You can’t have volunteers and paid staff being run out of the same house,” he said. “Battling will arise.”
Wildermuth, through his E5 Support Services of Queensbury, is interviewing both paid staffers and volunteers in the squad reorganization effort.
“We’re an equal opportunity employer,” he said, predicting that the squad should reorganized and back in service in a month or less. “We’ll be encouraging the squad’s volunteer core to come back and ride,” he said.
Wildermuth said he would be listening to the allegations, conducting reference and background checks, and holding interviews prior to hiring back paid staff.
Wildermuth is now acting as the personnel provider for Bay Ridge Rescue Squad, Hague Volunteer Fire Department’s ambulance squad, the Indian Lake Volunteer Ambulance Corps and the Johnsonville Ambulance Service.
Wildermuth said he was hired by the squad board of directors Wednesday Nov. 28.
“Before North Warren closed its doors, there were no officers left — for one reason or another — and shifts were vacant,” he said. “But we hope to have a very nice program up and running in the near future — Area residents deserve an ambulance squad they can rely on and that’s what were going to be doing.”