North Stonington ambulance crews show some improvement in responding to calls

North Stonington — More than a year removed from local officials raising concerns about the ability of the town’s ambulance company to respond to calls, the company has begun to respond to more calls. 

There is still clear room for growth, however.

A review of data requested by The Day found that the town’s ambulance company has reduced its missed first call rate, and in effect decreased the percentage of the times an out-of-town ambulance is required to respond to a local call.

The Day requested data from the Town of Groton Emergency Communications, which dispatches for North Stonington, related to the North Stonington Ambulance Association from November 2016 through December 2017. The data showed that of the 788 calls received, the company had no or partial crew — meaning the call went to a mutual aid ambulance — 157 times, which represents just under 20 percent of the total calls.

The current missed first call rate is a marked improvement from a year prior, when it was reported the company had a missed first call rate of about 26 percent, with one particularly harsh month being as bad as 47 percent. Comparatively, the worst month for the company in the past year saw a missed first call rate of about 27 percent.

The current rate also brings the company in line with the requirements of the state, which expects ambulances to respond to the first call at least 80 percent of the time, said Joe Sastre, director of the Town of Groton's Office of Emergency Management.

“For a while North Stonington was having a very difficult time, but by all reports that I see and hear … they seem to be doing better,” Sastre said. “Bottom line is they’re addressing it.”

More than a year ago, Shawn Murphy, who was first selectman at the time, expressed concern about getting an ambulance to people in a timely manner and requested data from Town of Groton Emergency Communications. Following a review of that data, it appeared the ambulance company was having some struggles responding to calls and, months later, the company decided to change and expand its leadership for the first time in years.

After the election of a new president, trustee and two new officers in June, the company then had another shake-up in top leadership in October when the sitting president was forced to step away after taking another job.

Sam Burdick, who was previously vice president, became president of the company, and Cody Morgan, who was a trustee, became the vice president. Both are members of the ambulance association and the North Stonington Volunteer Fire Company and have been for multiple years.

Although the overall average shows improvement, the month-to-month numbers don’t reflect quite the same stark increase, with multiple months crossing the 20 percent threshold. It is a reality that both Burdick and Morgan are very conscious of.

“I think where we are is stagnant at this point, I want to see it get better,” Burdick said. “I’d like to see this number get down to scraping around 12 percent for a missed call rate.”

Burdick said that a big part of the current problem lies in staffing challenges, a problem that plagued the company in the years prior.

Presently the company has no part-time staff, although that was an option proposed by the former company president Brian Elias last February. Instead, the company has 20 per-diem EMTs on staff.

In the per-diem system, EMTs work 12 hour shifts as available at about $15 per hour, although that wage increases annually along with the cost of living. Per-diem EMTs also are not obligated to take a shift, so it’s been very valuable for the company to find consistent staffers.

Burdick said the company now has a nice core of reliable per-diem staffers.

The company has also increased the number of other volunteer responders from just a consistent handful a year ago, to 11 volunteer responders today.

Burdick and Morgan hope to continue to increase the number of volunteers, saying that they really can never have enough. Those volunteers don’t even have to be EMTs, they could also be people volunteering on the company’s board with different types of skills, such as finance, IT or community outreach.

Despite having a recent problem with its online application portal, Burdick and Morgan would also like increase the number of per-diem EMTs with the company as well. This is especially important given that being so reliant on such a small core can have serious ripple effects if just one is missing.

The tale of the past two months, which saw both the company’s peak and valley, is the embodiment of that.

The timing of calls is by nature a volatile thing, but in November the company had a missed call rate of just 2 percent. Of the 48 calls the company received that month, only on one occasion did they have no or partial crew.

But in December, a family matter required one reliable per-diem staffer to take a leave of absence, and others were stretched because of the holidays. Of the 66 calls that came in that month, 18 times the company had no or partial crew.

“November shows what a good month can be,” Morgan said. “I think with a little bit more stability employment wise and volunteer wise that number is going to be a lot lower.”

c.clark@theday.com

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