Monday, September 25, 2023

Allow Cornwall Ambulance to Continue Serving

The Cornwall Town Board and Cornwall-on-Hudson Village Board recently ousted Cornwall Volunteer Ambulance Corp (COVAC) from their jurisdictions. Although COVAC is a privately owned, non-profit organization, both municipalities contracted with COVAC for ambulance protection. The Town and Village will now begin using New Windsor Volunteer Ambulance Corp (NWVAC). The original story ran here.

We oppose this decision. We agree with the Town and Village Boards that many problems existed. We understand this was a difficult decision for them to reach. After all, COVAC has been a fixture in the community for sevan decades and the volunteers saved many lives during that time. We commend the elected officials for investing so much time into this matter. However, we disagree with the ouster.

  • Board members accused COVAC of responding to calls in other towns and leaving Cornwall unprotected. Under the new plan, NWVAC will be leaving their town to respond into Cornwall, possibly leaving New Windsor unprotected until more crews can be called in from home. Ambulance personnel cannot choose where to respond. Orange County 911 or local dispatchers send ambulances to calls. If COVAC responded out of town, it was because they were the closest available ambulance and were dispatched to respond. This is part of the Orange County “mutual aid” agreement. If another call occurs in Cornwall in the meantime, the next closest ambulance would be called to respond. This is common and daily practice in EMS and the fire service.
  • New Windsor’s services should not be drained on a daily basis for the next three years. This is unfairly shifting the burden to New Windsor residents and NWVAC volunteers. In 2004, New Windsor Town Supervisor George Meyers ousted NWVAC for similar reasons. However, there was one big difference. Meyers did not put a strain on a neighboring town. Instead, he contracted with commercial ambulance providers such as Mobile Life Support Services and Regional EMS. If Cornwall intends to follow through with this for three years, they should consider Meyers’ previous approach. It worked.
  • The town and village boards have been asking for new leadership within COVAC. It finally happened, but town leaders say it came too late. Also too late was advising the public. This should have been done during the early stages when the problems came to a head, not the night of the vote to kick out COVAC. The fact that it was a contractual issue does not negate the alleged public safety threat. Contract or not, if the Town and Village felt the public was in such danger, residents should have at least been told the bare minimum.
  • The ouster meeting was open to public comments. All members of the community who commented, including two former town supervisors and a former mayor, opposed terminating COVAC. Not a single resident spoke in favor of closing COVAC. Perhaps there were many residents who did advocate for the ouster, but they did not attend. In fact, the public turnout at such an important meeting was poor. Again, public meetings should have been held much sooner, with advance notice, so the public’s voice could be heard. At that point, elected officials could have followed the wishes of a majority of their constituents.
  • The village mayor admitted that he had a great meeting with COVAC’s new president a few days before the ouster vote. The COVAC chief said their responses have increased since January. If COVAC was improving, why not table the ouster for a few months to see if conditions continued improving? Clearly COVAC’s new leadership was making steps in the right direction.
  • Some help is better than no help at all. If COVAC members want to continue volunteering, the more the merrier. As COVAC’s attorney said, all it takes is one mass casualty incident to need all available EMTs. COVAC volunteers are being given a choice to apply to join NWVAC from scratch. However, why force them to re-join another town’s ambulance corp when they simply wish to volunteer for their hometown ambulance corp?

We respectfully encourage the Town and Village Boards to reverse their decision and figure out an alternate solution. We also encourage Cornwall, Cornwall-on-Hudson, and New Windsor residents to speak up and peacefully voice their opinions, whether they support or oppose the ouster.

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