Watertown Daily Times, N.Y.
After 30 years, Guilfoyle Ambulance Services is giving up its emergency medical dispatch services, handing them over to Jefferson County.
The ambulance service, a private company that has provided emergency medical services in Jefferson County since 1973, has been handling most of the emergency medical dispatch requirements for the city and town of Watertown, the town of Brownville, and parts of Pamelia and Rutland since the early 1990s for free. Now, president and CEO Bruce G. Wright said it’s time for the company to give up that responsibility.
“We’ve had a successful run, but it’s time to hand it back to the county,” he said Tuesday.
When a resident of the regions covered by Guilfoyle calls 911, they’re connected to the county’s dispatch service at the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building. After answering a few questions and confirming they’re in Guilfoyle’s area, the county dispatch service will forward the emergency call to the Guilfoyle offices on Newell Street in the city, to continue whats known as “prearrival questions”
Now, callers will stay with the same dispatcher who answered their call for the entirety of the connection.
Mr. Wright said that should help cut down on wait times for callers, and keep them from having to answer the same questions multiple times.
“We needed the same information the county dispatcher was asking for, so things were duplicated,” he said.
Guilfoyle was providing the services at no charge, to anyone. While the county is supposed to receive E-199 fee disbursements, Mr. Wright said Guilfoyle has no formal agreement with the county or the city of Watertown for their services, which require at least one dispatcher to be on call 24 hours, seven days a week. The region covered by Guilfoyle’s emergency dispatch program sees over 4,000 calls annually.
There’s no timeframe for the changeover, Mr. Wright and County Administrator Robert F. Hagemann, III said. Jefferson County is hiring on five new dispatchers to take on the extra work of handling every emergency medical call for the county’s most populous region, and hiring and training them could take months.
“We’re in a labor shortage,” said Mr. Hagemann on Tuesday. “It could take a while to find the right staff.”
For now, Guilfoyle continues to handle every EMS call in their coverage area. Once the changeover occurs, residents will notice no real change in services, and Guilfoyle will still respond to their emergency.
“People should still be calling 911 for emergencies,” Mr. Wright said.
He said there’s a verbal agreement, not yet officially drafted, for Guilfoyle to provide backup to the county dispatch service for emergency calls when they’re overloaded. And Guilfoyle will still have dispatchers in their office 24 hours a day, every day, to handle internal communications.
“We get emergency calls to our direct line every day, and people can still call us for those emergencies,” Mr. Wright said.
Mr. Hagemann said the county is working on finalizing the agreement with Guilfoyle to take over dispatch. They’ve included the five new dispatch positions in the 2022 budget, and will soon start the search for people to fill those positions, as well as adding in a new desk for the dispatcher to take calls at.
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