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Standardized procedures, recruitment push among key strategies to fix fire, emergency response issues: Yaeger

By Mike Pettinella
Tim Yaeger

The task force charged with finding ways to stabilize fire and emergency medical service in Genesee County has identified eight priority measures from a list of about 100 recommendations provided by an independent consulting firm.

County EMS Coordinator Tim Yaeger (photo at right) on Thursday said the task force is meeting regularly in an effort to implement these strategies, with a focus on developing standards that all local fire departments or companies can follow and finding efficient ways to recruit potential volunteer firefighters.

In July 2022, the Genesee County Comprehensive Fire & Emergency Medical Service Implementation Plan (Fire & EMS Plan) was finalized. Since that time, the task force received feedback on the recommendations from Municipal Resources, Inc. of Plymouth, N.H., and has decided to start with the low-hanging fruit – items that won’t take years to put into practice.

Yaeger said that two key recommendations fall into the fire operations category.

From the task force report:

-- The Genesee County Fire Advisory Board, working collaboratively with the Genesee County Emergency Services, should form a committee to begin the development of a comprehensive County-wide Standard Operations Procedures/Guidelines (SOP/SOG) manual utilizing existing SOPs/SOG’s as a starting point. They should also consider the development of County-wide operational manuals based on the Northern Virginia Regional Fire Services manuals. This could even be pursued as a regional endeavor with the other counties in the GLOW region.

-- The Genesee County Fire Advisory Board, working collaboratively with the Genesee County Emergency Services, should adopt a standardized SOP/SOG form.

“Right now, we operate, I would call it regionally,” Yaeger said. “There’s not many calls that the single fire department handles by themselves. Most incidents are now handled by two or more fire companies. So, it makes sense to be basically operating off the same sheet of music. That approach in other parts of the country has had very good success.”

Yaeger said having the same strategies and tactics for all fire departments is “really a safety component.”

“By doing this, we want to make sure that we're all providing a better level of service while maintaining the safety of the firefighters.”

Another of the eight recommendations deals with volunteer recruitment and retention. 

From the task force report:

-- The Genesee County Emergency Services Task Force and Genesee County Fire Service Advisory Board, assisted by the Genesee County Department of Emergency Services, should establish, and recommend the use of a uniform application and screening process for all new members of the fire and EMS services throughout Genesee County. Although these personnel are volunteers, they still enjoy all of the rights of full-time public safety personnel and possess the same high ethical and moral character.

The report states that all volunteers must have a valid driver’s license and submit to background and credit checks, and drug testing.

“The operations group is looking at ways to streamline the application process and the onboarding process of volunteers into the EMS system, or fire and EMS system, and is looking at better ways to market and advertise the need for volunteers,” Yaeger said.

Rounding out the priority recommendations:

-- The Genesee County EMS Council should be reactivated to meet monthly with representatives from local fire departments, Genesee County Sheriff's Department 911 Dispatch Center, Genesee County Emergency Services, Mercy EMS, and LeRoy Ambulance. This group would meet and discuss any documented concerns or thoughts from the previous month to help enhance services in the future. The EMS Council should not be considered as a forum just for the airing of any grievances but an open forum for communication and feedback to improve the quality of EMS service to Genesee County.

-- Working collaboratively, the Genesee County Fire Advisory Board and the Genesee County Emergency Services should develop a plan to deploy several daytime quick response units; fire apparatus staffed with an officer and three firefighters, positioned strategically around the County in fire stations that wish to host them.

-- Genesee County's fire and EMS providers should consider the implementation of a reward, recognition, or incentive program for members that attain a level of more than 25 percent response. An example would be to provide gift certificates for local restaurants, concerts, or other entertainment as a reward for attaining a high level of response.

-- Working collaboratively with their partners at Genesee County, the Genesee County Emergency Services Task Force and Genesee County Fire Advisory Board should explore the feasibility of standardizing many of the tools and equipment utilized by the County's fire departments to allow for cost savings generated by group purchasing arrangements.

-- The Genesee County Legislature should consider funding regional or county positions that would reduce the overall burden on local fire and EMS organizations and enhance operational capability and efficiency. Examples of those positions are training officer, fire operations officer, health and safety officer, fire prevention officer, recruitment and retention officer and human resources officer.

Yaeger said he is encouraged by Genesee County’s move to contract last fall with Le Roy Ambulance and Mercy EMS.

“It seems to have stabilized both organizations, and we consistently continue to monitor their performance because it's fragile,” he said. “The whole EMS system is extremely fragile –both statewide and nationwide. So, we're hoping that the subsidies that the county’s providing to both agencies will be sufficient enough to sustain that reliability, performance and staffing level that we're expecting from those two agencies.”

He also pointed to the significance of having “elected officials at the table with fire service officials,” something that Genesee County EMS is facilitating.

“It’s so important that the elected official understands what's going on in the fire service and the fire service understands where the elected officials are coming from,” he said. “So far, these meetings have been very, very successful.”

Yaeger said he plans to update the Genesee County Legislature on the task force’s work, possibly as soon as next month.

City ambulance? How about an ambulance in the city: suggested during budget talks

By Joanne Beck

Monday evening’s city budget talks took a step back in time, slightly dé·jà vu in reverse when it came to the city fire and police departments.

City Councilman Paul Viele suggested the possibility of having one ambulance on reserve just in city limits.

“For police and fire reserves, I want to see some research on response times for the (Mercy EMS) ambulance. If they're not good, I’d like to maybe see if we can get one ambulance for the city, that just takes care of the city limits. Its response time isn't that good,” Viele said during the workshop at City Hall. “There's one incident, the kid got bitten by a bee. And there was no ambulance, and they throw the kid in the police car to bring him to the hospital.”

“We’ve got to have a backup pickup truck thing for the hospital. You know, I don't want to spend $250,000 on an ambulance. But just something to keep someone alive at the hospital. If your wife is having a heart attack, and there’s not an ambulance, you’re going to be pissed off.”

City Manager Rachael Tabelski said that she could check with Mercy EMS to see if some type of arrangement could be made to house an ambulance within city limits. Mercy has a current contract with Genesee County to provide ambulance service countywide, which means that wherever an emergency occurs, the ambulance responds to that municipality within the county.

“There is the option for the city to contract for one soul ambulance from Mercy to be staged in the city at all times. What that costs, what negotiations are, I don't know. And opening negotiations in this manner probably isn't the best way to get a good price, because now it's public,” she said. “But I think we have a lot more to explore. I don't disagree with you, that if an ambulance isn't available for our families in the city of Batavia, that's a severe issue, or if our kids were out in sports fields. And that poor kid, I can't even imagine.”

The service throughout the county is strapped as it is, Council President Eugene Jankowski Jr. said.

“I mean, the county is struggling with staffing and ambulance and shortages. They're struggling now. So I don't think it's by design, I think it's just manpower, we'd have to find out,” Jankowski said. “But I knew they were struggling. They couldn't even get in the volunteers.”

The dé·jà vu factor here is that the city at one time operated its own ambulance service within the fire department. As a cost-saving measure in 2008, a prior City Council and city management agreed to shut down city ambulance operations in lieu of a private company taking over the service.

Councilman Bob Bialkowski recalled how “complicated” the process was at the time, and it involved fire department staff and public protests and concern. The city cannot simply operate its own ambulance due to health certifications, he and city management said, but perhaps an ambulance could be housed inside city limits if Mercy agreed to such an agreement.

Tabelski said that both the police and fire chief can talk more about this topic at a future meeting, as, per a related report, there is a “critical lack of services from ambulance not only here but across the state,” she said.

Top Photo: City Councilman Paul Viele, and Council President Eugene Jankowski Jr. talk about the 2023-24 budget during a workshop Monday at City Hall, and above, City Manager Rachael Tabelski, left, Assistant Manager Erik Fix, far right, city staff and council members work through the proposed budget line by line. Photos by Joanne Beck.

Mercy Flight continues constant search for a few good men and women to fill its ranks

By Howard B. Owens

Recruitment and retention continue to be the biggest challenge for Mercy Flight Inc., especially in its ground operations in Genesee County, Mercy EMS, said Scott P. Wooton, executive VP and treasurer of the Buffalo-based non-profit.

On Monday, Wooton delivered the agency's annual report to the Human Services Committee of the County Legislature.

It's a competitive job environment with record-low unemployment in the region and rising wages throughout the nation, and not as many young people are choosing an EMT career path, he said.

"As wages continue to rise in part-time and even entry-level positions in other industries, it's imperative that the EMS system is able to continue to offer competitive wages and benefits for long-term sustainability," Wooton said.

It's difficult to remain competitive, Wooton said, when the Federal government is not increasing Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements to keep up with rising expenses.

"The stress on the EMS system as a whole could approach a breaking point," he said. "This is almost verbatim what we had in our report last year. It continues to be the number one challenge in EMS."

The pandemic has also made recruitment and retention more of a challenge.

"We feel that there may be folks who are choosing other occupations as opposed to one which will put them in the way of this virus and other such situations," Wooton said. 

Mercy Flight recently gave its employees an across-the-board 5.9 percent raise, he told the committee.

"We intend to continue to champion the courageous men and women who do choose EMS as their way of life, and will lead the charge ensuring that they're adequately compensated for their service," Wooton said.

As for numbers for the fiscal year, Mercy Flight was called upon 209 times in Genesee County. Of those, 123 resulted in patient transports. There were 72 of those 209 calls for service canceled by the requesting agency and 14 canceled due to weather.  

For Mercy EMS, there were more than 10,000 calls for service resulting in more than 7,000 patient contacts. Those contacts included both transports and lift assists.

"These figures are down about five percent as compared to pre-COVID numbers," Wooton said. "We feel that essentially, some patients would rather choose to delay care at times, especially during the pandemic, rather than having our service coming and assist them. Certainly, we tried to make it a point of public information that's not the right thing to do. When you need an ambulance, when you feel you need an ambulance, certainly you need to call and at the very least let our first responders give you sort of a checkout and see what your condition is."

The pandemic has also hampered community outreach, Wooton said. There have been fewer safety training classes and events, fewer ground training sessions for firefighters, fewer career days, and fewer DWI drills at high schools.

"Those are very impactful, and we were able to fit in a few in the previous fiscal year," he said. "All were canceled the year before. We're looking forward to getting back and doing those again, as well as our participation in various third-party open houses in recruitment demonstrations."

Wooton also addressed the recent fatal accident in Elba that claimed the life of Mercy Flight Pilot James Sauer.

"This is the first time that this has ever happened, and God willing, the last time that it will ever happen that we've lost one of our own in the line of duty," Wooton said. 

He had just come to the meeting from Sauer's funeral in Churchville.

See alsoMercy Flight pilot killed in Elba crash on Tuesday lauded as 'top-class human'

He said Mercy Flight voluntarily grounded its aircraft out of an "overabundance of caution and safety" following the accident, and Mercy Flight Central has been filling in for emergency ambulance service.

"We suspended all of our flights not only just to ensure that we're able to ensure the mechanical functioning of our helicopters, but also to give our providers time to process and integrate."

Mercy Flight tentatively plans to return to normal operations on Thursday, he said.

Photo above: Scott P. Wooton presents Mercy Flight's annual report to Genesee County Legislature's Human Services Committee Monday. Photo by Howard Owens.

Ways & Means supports resolution appointing Wade Schwab to fill vacant county coroner post

By Mike Pettinella

It looks as though the Genesee County Legislature has found a qualified person to fill the vacant position of county coroner.

Minutes ago, the governing body’s Ways & Means Committee voted in favor of a resolution appointing longtime paramedic Wade Schwab as coroner, effective Feb. 24 through Dec. 31.

The measure will be put on the agenda of next Wednesday’s full legislature meeting at the Old County Courthouse.

One of the four county coroner jobs became open earlier this year upon the resignation of Jeffery McIntire, who moved to Florida.

The resolution follows Section 400 (7) of County Law that stipulates that an appointee shall hold office until Dec. 31 following the first annual election, at which the vacancy can be filled by election. The position will be on the ballot in November for the unexpired term, which carries through Dec. 31, 2023.

Schwab introduced himself to the committee, noting that he has lived in Genesee County for many years and has been a paramedic for about 30 years.

Just recently, he accepted a full-time paid paramedic staff position with Central Orleans Volunteer Ambulance in Albion. Before that, he was employed for nearly 20 years with Mercy EMS, climbing to the rank of crew chief of special operations. He also is part of the City of Batavia’s Emergency Response Team.

He told the committee that he has become more interested in the coroner position over the years.

“Back when I was employed by Genesee Memorial Hospital as a medic, we used to have a full-service morgue on premises and did autopsies,” he said. “I’ve got a fairly well-rounded background as far as being able to handle the position as I move into the next chapter of my life, and I greatly appreciate the appointment.”

Schwab joins the county team that also includes Karen Lang, Adam Palumbo and Tom Douglas.

He and his wife, Laurie, live in Alexander with their two German shepherds.

Bicyclist stricken on Edgewood Drive, taken to ECMC by Mercy Flight

By Press Release

A Mercy Flight helicopter responded to Edgewood Drive in Batavia around 7 o'clock tonight after a man riding a bicycle suffered a medical condition.

A passerby saw the man and pulled him out of a ditch off the roadway and minutes later Mercy EMS and Genesee County sheriff's deputies were on the scene.

Mercy EMS personnel administered CPR to the man, who was transported to Erie County Medical Center. The Town of Batavia Fire Department also was on the scene. The initial call came in around 6:20 p.m.

Submitted photos.

Mercy Flight celebrates opening new EMS facility in Batavia

By Howard B. Owens

The dedication and ribbon cutting for the new Mercy EMS headquarters on Call Road, off of Route 98, in Batavia, was more than just a celebration of the new facility. It was an expression of gratitude for the Mercy Flight/EMS staff and chance to honor Mercy's cofounder, Doug Baker.

A plaque honoring Baker, pictured above, will be placed on the new building.

For his part, Baker thanked the Genesee County community for entrusting its emergency medical transport services to Mercy EMS and Mercy Flight.

"I'm here to you say thank you for the confidence and courtesy of the acceptance we've had in this community," Baker said. "From the governmental agencies, from the fire and the police, from the hospital, and from the whole community at large. And last but not least certainly the employees. We're very very lucky. Don't think we take it for granted. It's pretty special."

Mercy Flight became Baker's vision in 1981 and he, along with Sister Sheila Marie Walsh, Dr. Matthew Burke, and Dr. James Ehinger, came together to create Mercy Flight that year. It became the first helicopter emergency transport service in New York. The first helicopter based in Batavia was in 2006. In 2006, Mercy EMS became the designated ambulance service for the county.

Since then, the ambulance crew has operated from cramped quarters in the former St. Jerome's Hospital on Bank Street. The new facility not only gives them more space, it will offer better space for training and for eating and resting between calls, especially on long 12- and 24-hour shifts.

Bob Bausch, chairman of the Genesee County Legislature, was among those who congratulated Mercy Flight on its new facility.

"It's a true symbol of your commitment to the residents of Genesee County but more importantly thank you for what you offer day in day out," Bausch said. "You provided an exceptional level of service and this new facility will only enhance those services."

The dedication prayer was offered by Pastor Dan Dart, who noted Mercy EMS came to his aid once and he got to ride in "the whirlybird." He thanked the staff for their dedication to the health and safety of our community.

"Personally, then, on the receiving end, I say, 'Oh wow, I say thank you to all these folks for this building,' " Dart said. "It's going to help facilitate these folks to do the work that they do much more efficiently. It's a great, practical building -- all throughout, just amazing."

Doug Baker

Pastor Dan Dart.

New Mercy EMS headquarters about ready for move-in day

By Howard B. Owens

A new, spacious headquarters for Mercy Flight/Mercy EMS will serve as a much-needed home away from home once the ribbon is cut on the new facility off Route 98 in Batavia on May 21.

"I’m looking forward to the crews being able to move into a home," said Bill Schutt, business development manager for Mercy EMS. "That was the whole gist of this thing --  give them a home while they were at work.

"They spend a lot of time here. They spend a lot of shifts here. They spend a lot of time together, probably more so than families. Holiday time when we’re home enjoying our family, they're here still working."

The 12,000-square-foot facility has bays for ambulances in half the space and the other half contains offices, storage, showers, a workout area, a day room, a quiet room, a kitchen suitable for crews to enjoy meals with their families, and a large conference room.

"The space is large enough to house the ambulances, keep them out of the weather and to provide everything the crews need throughout their 12- or 24-hour shifts," said Scott Wooton, VP of finance for Mercy Flight. "If they’re here for a 24-hour shift, they need to be able to prepare food. They need to be able to wash their uniform if they come back from a call where their uniform is soiled.

"They need to be able to rest. They need to be able to sit down and chart stuff. This has been a need right from the start. It’s only that it’s taken nine years for us to put all the pieces together and make it happen."

The $2.5 million facility was largely financed through assistance from M&T Bank and the Genesee County Economic Development Center, which was able to provide tax-exempt financing.

That assistance was critical to making the new building possible, Wooton said.

"We certainly don’t have that much cash on hand so we couldn’t do it without the financing and being able to do it in a tax-exempt way keeps that interest rate more manageable for us and spread it out in a way that the monthly payments are more manageable," Wooton said.

David Ciurzynski, business development manager with Manning Squires Hennig, said one of the key features of the new building is its energy efficiency. The large garage doors that are all glass will allow a lot of natural light into the ambulance bays and all lighting throughout the building is LED. The energy efficiency will help Mercy EMS reduce its operating costs.

The pre-engineered building also helped reduce costs and accelerate construction time.

"We were able to keep the construction period tight so they can get in and get it in use as quickly as possible," Ciurzynski said. A pre-engineered building allows you a lot of flexibility on time because components come quickly but it also gives you a very handsome building they can use for years to come and it’s exapandable."

Construction set to begin on new facility for Mercy Flight in Batavia

By Howard B. Owens

Mercy Flight/EMS broke ground Friday on its new 11,500-square-foot facility off Route 98, just north of the Thruway, in the Town of Batavia.

The facility will become the new staging area headquarters in Genesee County for the ambulance service.

It's a $2 million investment by Mercy Flight and is located on 2.2 acres in the Gateway II project on Call Parkway.

Photo submitted by Mercy Flight.

Mercy EMS planning to build new, larger facility north of the Thruway off Route 98

By Howard B. Owens

Mercy EMS is finding its current ambulance staging area at St. Jerome's on Bank Street a little cramped and not conducive to keeping ambulances ready to roll in all kinds of weather, so it's planning a new 11,500 square foot facility off Route 98, just north of the Thruway, in the Town of Batavia.

The new facility will cost about $2 million and the site plan was reviewed and recommended for approval last night by the County Planning Board.

"There’s no space," said Mercy EMS General Manager Bill Schutt of the current location. "We’re in essentially four old hospital rooms there. There’s very limited parking space, obviously, if you’ve been there. In winter times, it’s especially difficult. Ambulances have fluids in them, medications that need to be kept warm, so you’re trying to run heaters inside them to warm them while parked outside. We don’t have any space there to hold meetings, do training, any additional private spaces, very limited crew space."

The new facility will have eight interior parking bays and additional spaces with electrical hook-ups for ambulances to park outside in emergency overflow situations.

The location, 2.2 acres being split out from an 8.6 parcel, is part of the Gateway II project on Call Parkway, just off of Oak Orchard Road.

Schutt said the new location will have no effect on response times.

There will also be expanded crew space, a meeting and training room.

The new location will also include a purchasing department that will house regional purchasing for Mercy Flight.

Also on Thursday's agenda:

  • The board recommended approval of two new commercial buildings on a parcel just north of Home Depot, abutting the Thruway, at 4181 Veterans Memorial Drive. The buildings will be a 12,600 square foot facility that will house medical offices and a 7,500 square foot building that will contain three spaces. Two will be restaurant spaces. The $1.2 million project is being undertaken by Holland Trotta out of Rochester.  A spokesman for the developer told planners that the large space was originally intended for a well-known local restaurant, but those plans changed. The signage on the architectural drawings in the planning board packet for the smaller building show an urgent care business and a Mexican chain restaurant, Qdoba Mexican Eats.
  • The board recommended approval of a conditional use permit for 17.4-acre, 2-megawatt solar farm at 2901 Pearl Street Road, Batavia. 
  • The board recommended approval of a nine-month moratorium on the planning and construction of solar farms in Stafford, giving officials time to review policies and zoning plans for such facilities.
  • The board recommended approval of a site plan review for a new 29,456 square foot paddock at Batavia Downs to be constructed on the east side of the race track. The previous paddock was removed to make room for construction of the new hotel. Currently, stables, are being used for paddock space. Paddocks are where horses and drivers are prepared for each race and return to after the race for washing and testing (winning horses are tested for banned substances, as required by the gaming commission). 

Collins announces Homeland Security grant for Mercy EMS

By Howard B. Owens

Press release:

Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27) today announced $103,637 in federal funding for Mercy EMS in Batavia. The grant was allocated through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program (AFG), which is designed to help first responders improve their capability to respond to fires and emergencies of all types.

“Providing the necessary funding for our first responders is an excellent and prudent use of federal money,” Congressman Collins said. “Our local heroes need the proper resources to do their jobs and protect our communities. Many small fire companies and emergency medical service providers are unable to purchase necessary equipment upgrades due to financial limitations. This funding will help create more efficient and effective first responders, and I am proud I was able to help Mercy EMS secure this money.”

“Mercy EMS is extremely pleased to be awarded a grant through the FEMA Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program,” said Bill Schutt, general manager for Mercy EMS. “The grant will allow Mercy EMS to equip all our first-line ambulances with power-lift stretchers and tracked stair-chairs. These two devices will have multiple impacts on our operations. The power stretcher allows a crew to lift a patient with the touch of a button, eliminating manual lifting and the associated risk of injury to crews. Likewise the tracked stair-chair allows a patient to be moved down a flight of stairs with no lifting involved, again reducing the risk of injuries from lifting. The additional impact of the equipment involves increased patient safety and when dealing with larger patients the ability to move them with an increased level of dignity. As a nonprofit agency Mercy EMS could not afford these upgrades without grant assistance.”

Photo: New rig for Mercy EMS designed for critical care emergencies

By Howard B. Owens

Mercy EMS, a division of Mercy Flight, will soon roll a new, bigger ambulance on the roads of Genesee County, according to General Manager Bill Schutt.

The new rig will be used in critical care situations, especially when Mercy Flight is unable to fly because of weather conditions or is otherwise unavailable.

The larger space inside, compared to the typical vans used for basic life support (BLS) and advanced life support (ALS), is needed in critical care situations, Schutt said.

The ambulance is also designed to better handle larger patients.

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