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Ambulance Response Improving

ISLIP, N.Y. -- Ambulance response times are dropping in Islip because of a new backup system jointly staffed by the town's five ambulance districts, county and local emergency services, officials said yesterday.

Officials said the Tactical Ambulance Program, launched in January, has answered more than 500 calls with a median response time of 8 minutes. "It is a significant improvement," said Bob Delagi, acting director of Suffolk's Emergency Medical Services division. "We have had isolated cases [in Suffolk County] of ambulances responding to the scene in 18, 20, 40 minutes. The problem is acute all over the county."

A growing number of 911 calls and a dearth of volunteer emergency medical technicians available on weekdays had contributed to the response-time problem, officials said.

Town and county officials yesterday said they could not provide the average response times townwide before and after the program began.

Under the new system, a backup ambulance, staffed jointly by Islip's five ambulance districts, roams the town Monday through Friday, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., responding to emergencies when the nearest district's ambulances are occupied on other 911 calls.

A Tactical Ambulance Program unit responds to a scene if the nearest district can't get an ambulance on the way within 4 minutes of a call, said Jamie Atkinson, president of the Islip Ambulance Chiefs Association.

In the past, if a district couldn't muster an ambulance team in 9 minutes, the call was passed on to another district, which had 9 more minutes to act before the call was passed on to a third district.

That process sometimes led to dangerous delays, Atkinson said.

This is not the first joint effort among Long Island ambulance districts to reduce response times, Delagi said. But the Islip plan is unique in how it's funded, he said.

The Town of Islip paid the five districts $5.5 million last year to provide ambulance services. To fund the new program, the districts are now bidding together to purchase supplies - such as gauze, EKG machines, and blankets - at a lower price. They're using the savings to pay for the program, so it comes at no additional cost to taxpayers, Atkinson said.

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