In his three decades with the Franklin-Somerset First Aid Squad, Capt. Michael Lanyi has seen the number of volunteers wane, he says, largely because people are working longer hours and just not available for emergency response.
To avoid overwhelming the remaining volunteers, the squad has now contracted with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick to handle 911 calls during the day.
"We had to do something," Lanyi said yesterday. "We were missing too many calls."
Like Franklin-Somerset, EMS units across the state are suffering from the shortage of responders -- one aspect of New Jersey's EMS system that could collapse without immediate action, a report released Friday found.
Emergency personnel and other officials yesterday gave varied reactions to that independent report by the state Department of Health and Senior Services. Conducted by Tri Data Corp. of Arlington, Va., it detailed a system that lacked state oversight, uniform standards for training and a sufficient number of personnel to handle emergency calls that number as high as 800,000 per year.
Among the major recommendations are to transfer EMS duties to municipalities and create a new state division that would oversee New Jersey's almost 25,000 emergency medical technicians and paramedics.
"They clearly and accurately defined all the failures in the system and how severe they are," said Vincent Robbins, president and CEO of the Monmouth-Ocean Hospital Service Corporation, a private company based in Wall Township that provides emergency medical services.
Scott Larson, president of the Cedar Grove Ambulance and Rescue Squad in Essex County, said a new division would be a good idea to establish uniformity, as long as they consulted local first aid squads for their input.
But Lanyi said his volunteer squad already follows state mandates for training and reporting.
"Personally, I wouldn't be in favor of it," he said of the option. He said he opposed towns taking control of first aid squads, pointing out the expenses involved and calling it an unnecessary layer of administration and bureaucracy.
In Hillsborough, Somerset County, the rescue squad has worked a combined paid and volunteer staff for about 20 years, said Chief David Gwin. Regardless of whether the emergency workers are career or volunteer, everyone should be complying with the same standards, he said.
"We don't feel threatened by oversight," said Gwin, who has been with the Hillsborough Rescue Squad for 32 years. "It's more important to make sure the service is provided."
Officials also questioned the feasibility of consolidating services among rescue agencies in multiple towns.
"What makes it difficult is your call volume will double so you still need the same amount, if not more, volunteers," said Larson, whose squad includes about 60 members.
Robbins, of Monmouth-Ocean, said the report will generate a lot of debate in the coming weeks and months, and said while most of the recommendations were good, the proposals will need to be amended to some extent."We just need some modifications and some discussions to try to find a way to determine a consensus," he said.